SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

January 9, 2013

Superintendent wants safety check for schools

By Alan Burke
Staff writer

---- — PEABODY — It’s safe in the Peabody schools, according to officials. But in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., shootings last month, you can’t be too safe.

“Every school, every person in this country was affected by that,” Superintendent Joe Mastrocola told the School Committee last night. “It was a challenging time for our schools.”

Consequently, he suggested that Peabody get a “full safety assessment” of its schools by an independent security consultant. The idea was adopted unanimously, without discussion.

Mastrocola explained that the board had already talked over security in a lengthy closed-door meeting prior to the regular meeting. In open session, he revealed that he’d recently obtained a grant to help pay for the assessment.

Further, he’s hoping to hear from the community in an “open discussion of some of the things we should be looking into.”

Following the meeting, he revealed one of the measures he’s now considering: “I’d like to install a badge system,” which he said could set a tone within the schools that increases safety.

He also listed a number of positives regarding the issue of safety in the schools. “We’re fortunate ... to have the full support of our community.”

Last summer, before the Connecticut shootings, he was already taking advice from the Northeastern Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council, a group that combines members of area police departments to respond to unusual events, like hostage situations and mass shootings.

School doors are secured, and two Peabody police officers currently patrol the high school and middle school, respectively, with yet another to cover the elementary schools.

“We have a good relationship with the police,” the superintendent said. “It’s even gotten better.”

As to any pressing lapses in security, he said, “There’s nothing we need to do right now.”

In an interview, School Committee member Jarrod Hochman also expressed satisfaction with the security situation at present.

“I think the superintendent, the chief of police (Robert Champagne) and the mayor (Ted Bettencourt) agree that the personnel in the city do a fantastic job,” he said.

Mastrocola declined to discuss the debate over gun control that’s been ongoing since the Newtown killings. But he suggested that when it comes to security in the future, “the discussion is going to be about mental health. It’s going to change from locks and keys to mental health.”