Beefed-up se­cu­rity will greet stu­dents for first day of classes next week

More than 18,000 stu­dents ready to re­turn; sys­tem beefs up se­cu­rity with more sher­iff’s deputies on duty

The Enterprise - - Front Page - By JAC­QUI ATKIELSKI jatkiel­ski@somd­ Twit­ter: @Jac­quiEn­tNews

Al­most 18,200 stu­dents will start a new school year next Tues­day, Sept. 4, and can ex­pect more se­cu­rity mea­sures in place and new teach­ers to meet.

Jeff Ma­her, St. Mary’s pub­lic schools’ chief strate­gic of­fi­cer, said at Wed­nes­day’s school board meet­ing that there are now more than 120 new hires this year.

Twenty-five of them are grad­u­ates of St. Mary’s pub­lic schools, he said, and an­other 60 teach­ers trans­ferred among lo­cal schools and about 70 em­ploy­ees were hired for non-teach­ing po­si­tions.

Some of the im­prove­ments at schools in­clude in­stalling a new se­cu­rity vestibule at Great Mills High School; ex­pand­ing the track at Chop­ti­con High School from six lanes to eight; mov­ing a re­lo­cat­able class­room trailer to Fair­lead Academy II be­hind Leonard­town High School; in­stalling a new play­ground at Lex­ing­ton Park El­e­men­tary School; and plac­ing new desks and chairs for stu­dents and teach­ers at Park Hall El­e­men­tary.

The Su­per­in­ten­dent’s Stu­dent Lead­er­ship Ad­vi­sory Coun­cil will con­tinue its work this year, led by new stu­dent board mem­ber Laik Meadows. An ad­vi­sory group for staff has also been formed to help ed­u­cate the school board and ad­min­is­tra­tion about is­sues.

“As we pre­pared to open the doors next week,” more in­for­ma­tion about reg­is­ter­ing new stu­dents, class­room sup­plies lists, lunch menus and other in­for­ma­tion is avail­able on­line this year, Ma­her said. He said the stu­dent code of con­duct and hand­book can also now be viewed on mo­bile de­vices.

Mary Washington, school board mem­ber, said “We’re go­ing to open on time … the grass is cut. We’re ready.”

She said it’s im­por­tant that teach­ers and staff “share their sto­ries” with stu­dents, be­cause the chil­dren will “be more en­gaged in the learn­ing process.” This year, the school com­mu­nity is en­cour­aged to con­nect with oth­ers and im­prove how they com­mu­ni­cate with oth­ers.

Great Mills 10th-grader Es­meilyn Al­varez Ro­das, who was at the Fair­lead Academy open house on Wed­nes­day, said she was look­ing for­ward to go­ing back to her English for Speak­ers of Other Lan­guages, or ESOL, classes with teacher Grace Baker.

Baker, who was chap­er­on­ing Al­varez Ro­das at the open house, said she is ex­cited to re­turn to work and help stu­dents. She said she teaches at five schools in the county.

Madi­son Webb, Fair­lead Academy bi­ol­ogy and earth science teacher, said this is her first year teach­ing. She said she was a long-term sub­sti­tute teacher at Great Mills last year. Webb said the ca­reer “is all new to me,” but she has “plenty of en­ergy” to work with stu­dents.

Sher­iff Tim Cameron (R) in a re­lease said there will be a deputy at ev­ery St. Mary’s pub­lic school site when stu­dents re­turn to school next week.

Deputies will “con­tinue a high-vis­i­bil­ity pres­ence for the rest of the school year … to en­sure a safe and se­cure learn­ing en­vi­ron­ment,” ac­cord­ing to Cameron.

Deputies are also in­volved in a “safety and se­cu­rity over­time” ini­tia­tive to in­crease pa­trols at pub­lic and pri­vate St. Mary’s schools, the re­lease states.

Catholic school stu­dents across the county re­turned to school on Wed­nes­day, and stu­dents at the Ch­e­sa­peake Pub­lic Char­ter School started their school year back on Aug. 15.

Deputies will also con­tinue to visit schools through the “Adopt a School” pro­gram, a part­ner­ship be­tween the sher­iff’s of­fice and the pub­lic schools where of­fi­cers will visit their adopted el­e­men­tary school and help “with school se­cu­rity con­cerns, men­tor­ing of stu­dents and school emer­gency re­sponse plan­ning,” ac­cord­ing to the re­lease.

Five school re­source of­fi­cers will con­tinue to mon­i­tor and teach the DARE pro­gram at sec­ondary schools. One deputy is as­signed at each of the three high schools and two deputies will split their time be­tween the four mid­dle schools.

“The safety of stu­dents and chil­dren in St. Mary’s County is my first pri­or­ity,” Cameron said in the re­lease. Deputies are “con­duct­ing an all-out ef­fort to make sure that stu­dents re­turn­ing to classes feel safe on their first day of school.”

The in­creased se­cu­rity mea­sures come af­ter a shoot­ing at Great Mills on March 20 when a stu­dent shot and killed an­other stu­dent be­fore shoot­ing and killing him­self. An­other stu­dent was in­jured.

While it’s not yet pos­si­ble to as­sign a deputy to each pub­lic school “for a pro­longed period,” Cameron said he wanted school com­mu­ni­ties “to feel con­fi­dent that their schools are a safe and se­cure en­vi­ron­ment to learn in” through­out the aca­demic year.

Cameron stressed in the re­lease that par­ents should en­cour­age their chil­dren to not “bring any con­tra­band items to school.”

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