, Derry, New Hampshire

February 21, 2013

Officials: School are safe but more can be done

By Julie Huss

---- — There’s always room for improvement when it comes to keeping students safe, according to local school officials.

Londonderry voters will be asked to spend money March 12 to boost security in the town’s schools.

Concern about local school security was heightened after the shooting in Newtown, Conn., in December. School officials responded to residents’ questions with details about what is being done in the local schools.

Londonderry voters will decide whether to spend $101,000 for an additional police officer to serve as a school resource officer and also will choose whether to spend $170,000 for upgraded security systems in the district’s schools.

Right now, Londonderry has only one school resource officer.

Acting Town Manager and police Chief Bill Hart said Londonderry is doing everything right and adding another officer is one way to keep it that way.

“Sadly, it’s a reaction to the tragedy in Newtown,” he said. “We can do more with regard to security and we can do more in providing a police department that is visible in the schools.”

Video surveillance cameras are in place in Londonderry schools, and administration and staff are up to date on all emergency plans with local fire and police officials. Those plans are reviewed every year.

But some residents want more. A warrant article in Londonderry asks voters to spend $170,000 to upgrade security by adding a card access system and new door monitoring systems and sensors.

Some residents have said they would gladly pay more for the added security and peace of mind.

Tony Palma has four children in the district and would like to see another school resource officer in place.

“I don’t think anyone would mind the higher taxes (for that),” he said.

Derry school officials also reviewed their security measures. That includes keeping local police officers in classrooms and hallways. Officers regularly stop by the schools to spend time with children and watch over the day’s events.

South Range Elementary School recently invited fire and police officials to a special lunch to keep the relationship strong. Surveillance cameras also watch over that district’s schools and property.

“We do a lot of collaboration with many departments in town, including police,” Derry business administrator Jane Simard said.

Derry schools have evacuation plans in place and drills are held regularly. Simard also now has a scanner in her office.

“A lot of officers here have been coming and going in and out of schools,” she said. “It’s a great thing for students. They love having the officers walking the halls. It gives them a comfort level and also makes the staff feel comfortable.”

Pinkerton Academy may also consider changes to upgrade its security.

Headmaster Mary Anderson offered an updated communications plan to trustees and sending town officials recently, and noted someday the school might institute a simple student uniform as part of its safety plan. She stressed it’s early in the game and a survey would be going out to parents and students.