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City schools move ahead following gun incident

Posted on Wednesday, October 11, 2017 at 9:18 am

New safety procedure, drills to be implemented

By John Coffelt, Staff Writer

The Manchester Board of Education heard the system administration’s plans for how to move forward following an incident involving a student bringing a firearm to school last month.

Director of Schools Lee Wilkerson said that the first step had already begun with a parent forum held following the incident, but that the task would take time to rebuild trust lost in the way the incident was handled.

“The idea behind the parent forum was to start the process of regaining the trust that had been lost,” he told the board Monday (Oct. 9).

He detailed to the board several missteps that followed in the handling of the incident.

“You can have all the procedures in the world, but you have to have consultation between the administrative staff and debriefing after these events.”

He criticized that the police were not notified quicker and acknowledged that parents were poorly notified of the event. He took personal responsibility for miscommunication in the letter home and to the media.

“It caused a lot of fear. It caused a lot of mistrust and the goal of the school district and me as Director of Schools is to regain that trust,” Wilkerson said.

For its part, the board reprimanded Wilkerson for the breakdown of communication at the highest levels in the system, yet Chairman of the board Travis Hillis expressed confidence in Wilkerson’s leadership moving forward.

“We’ll be doing a letter of reprimand… but after we’ll get the plan get the process and the follow up. I think you did a good job trying to move it forward. Everyone has their moments when they might communicate wrong… I for one am supporting Lee and I hope he’ll move us forward.”

Hillis noted that he had learned of the situation from a county board member before hearing from MCS.

An update to the system’s safety procedures is being implemented in addition to a series of drills that will be held in observation of America’s Safe School Week Oct. 16-20.

Drills at all three schools will include soft lockdown, hard lockdown, evacuation and a reverse lockdown.

Soft lockdowns occur in the event of an external threat in the area of the school. Exterior and classroom doors lock, and movement is restricted throughout the school. A hard lockdown would add personnel immediately go to a protective place away from doors and windows and remain quiet.

Evacuation is a fire drill of sorts in which students orderly exit the building. A reverse evacuation is an orderly entrance into the building when conditions are safer inside than out.

In anticipation of the week’s events, Safe Schools coordinator Mark Howell will send home a letter further explaining the drills.  (Click here to read the letter)

Manchester Police and Fire departments may participate in certain drills. The exact times and dates of the drills will not be released prior to the activities.

Additionally, Westwood Middle School Principal Julie Green is implementing “No Gun” Pledge activities.

During the meeting the board ratified an executive action from Sept. 29 that created a new position at Central Office.

Upon questions for clarification by a member of the public, Hillis explained that the position, Full Time Coordinator of Supportive Services, was filled by former WMS principal Chad Fletcher.

“That position will be reevaluated next year,” he said.

The position, said Hillis, is to assist in the district data and instructional programs. It will support master teacher program and testing coordinator.

“Again that position will be reevaluated before the (next) budget is approved. We’re OK. We went through a budgetary crises a couple or three years ago and we’re not going to get ourselves in to that position. We are going to do what we need to for our (test) scores,” Hillis said.

Monday marked the first day for Principal Green at WMS and her first school board meeting in that new role.