CHATHAM–The Board of Education continued discussion last week on whether to accept a school resource officer (SRO), hearing from the district’s three principals how they would use an SRO in their buildings.
The board also heard about a proposed new guidance plan and got background on a change in the district’s fingerprinting policy.
In March Columbia County Sheriff David Bartlett offered to provide the district with a deputy to serve as an SRO for 20 hours a week at no cost to the district. New Lebanon, Germantown, and Hudson districts have all accepted similar proposals. After, consulting with the public, Chatham decided to delay its decision while officials gathered more information. Taconic Hills and Ichabod Crane each has its own full-time SRO, with the district paying half of a deputy’s salary.
Kristen Reno, principal of Mary E. Dardess Elementary School, told the board at the Tuesday, May 13 board workshop meeting that she would use the SRO to teach traffic, pedestrian and bike safety. She said having the officer spend time in the elementary school would be beneficial because it would be where the students began building relationships with the officer. She said the SRO at her previous district held writing contests with the students on topics he chose, such as littering.
Middle School Principal Amy Potter said there were two areas where an SRO would be most beneficial in the middle school. She said a mentoring program established by the officer would benefit the students who lack adult role models in their lives. The other area involved cell phones. She said most students get their first cell phone in middle school, but often are untrained in the responsibilities of appropriate phone use. She said the SRO would be useful in teaching appropriate and wise use of cell phones.
High School Principal John Thorsen said that “at the high school, there’s really no shortage of ways we could utilize an SRO.” He mentioned government and health classes as “obvious choices,” but said he could see the SRO going into any classroom in an educational capacity. He said the officer could be involved in presentations on addiction, drugs, social media, and distracted driving. He added that supervision at games would be another benefit. He said overall that the officer would be used as a “partner.”
Also at the meeting, the guidance staff presented a new district guidance plan. The plan will be on a future agenda for approval by the board. Cynthia Herron, the instructional study team leader for guidance, said the new plan was a four-year project. She said the district’s current guidance plan has a series of activities and projected timelines, but lacks objectives and goals.
“Times have changed and there’s been a shift to standard-based focus for a school counseling program,” she said. The proposed new program has objectives, goals and a way to measure what is accomplished.
High school guidance counselor Jim Lombardi said the new guidance plan is broken into three domains: social, academic, and career.
MED counselor Renee Morgan and high school social worker Tracy Kelly discussed the social domain.
“One of the most important skills a person can learn is how to get along with others,” said Ms. Morgan. Ms. Kelly said the guidance staff works to help students connect with peers and adults so they may have a sense of belonging. Additionally, she said, counselors provide emotional support, crisis intervention, conflict resolution and consultation.
Middle school guidance counselor Jacqueline Hoffman talked about the academic domain, saying that one of the counselors’ missions is to “help students find their academic self-worth.”
High school counselor Amanda Carroll said the career domain of the plan involves helping students to connect their academic and future planning. She said counselors provide guidance to students to help them through the research process and teach them about the options after high school.
Counselor Alesia Carras said that in addition to the three domains, there is a role called system support, which involves a lot of “behind-the-scenes” work to “contribute to the daily functioning of the school.”
After the presentation, district Superintendent Cheryl Nuciforo commended the guidance staff for their work in creating the program, calling the new plan “very cutting edge.”
The board also heard Ms. Nuciforo’s suggestion to change the district’s fingerprinting policy. She said that before any district employee or volunteer coach can work in a public school, that person must be fingerprinted. However, she said fingerprinting costs almost $100, which can create a financial burden for potential employees or volunteer coaches. “It’s become a barrier to finding good people,” she said.
The district used to pay the fingerprinting fee for employees, and then collect certain amounts out of their paychecks until the fee was reimbursed. Ms. Nuciforo said she did not know why that practice stopped and suggested the district restore the policy, but with the revision that volunteer coaches do not have to pay at all for their fingerprinting.
“That way the person could get the job… and we could get some good employees,” she said.
The matter does not require board approval, but Ms. Nuciforo said she wanted to share the idea with the board first.