While the district was happy with the audit of its one high school that GE Security conducted, Gregorich says that it cannot afford to have similar audits done for all its other schools. Instead, the district has hired TAL Global consultant Weimerskirch to help train district employees to conduct their own school security assessments. They’re funding this initiative in part by a Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools (REMS) grant the district received from the federal government. Weimerskirch says that he has seen similar initiatives nationwide for school district members to develop their own security skills.
“The Department of Education is looking for sustainability. They don’t want consultants to come in, do an assessment, and you never see us again,” says Weimerskirch. “They want us to train the schools to learn how to do them so they can continue to do them year in and year out.”
That way the schools themselves will have some great tools and techniques to use in the future, says Weimerskirch.
Weimerskirch will take the New Haven district’s security team on a walk-through of one of the middle schools, where he will teach them what to look for on their own assessments. He will also talk with them about how to assess policies.
To augment Weimerskirch’s training, Gregorich says that she, along with the district’s chief academic officer and the executive director of student services, has been attending workshops on school security, student behavior, and other security and emergency management-related topics. They are also working on a school security philosophy, which will serve as a template for security across the schools. The template will include everything from how to handle natural disasters to which radios the district schools should be using.
Gregorich says the district’s risk manager, Janice Chin, who has worked in healthcare and community coordination in the past, has already coordinated the emergency plans of the schools across the district. In order to do that, she not only assessed the emergency plans of the schools in the district, but she also made contact with other schools, in connection with the REMS grant, to see what worked for those districts.
Her team came up with a template of what must be present in each plan. Chin says that while sites all have unique challenges, needs, and hazards, there was “a cohesiveness that was needed throughout the district simply because staff are not just going to be working in isolation.” The template addresses both sides of that equation.
Additionally, the board voted that the school district should become National Incident Management System compliant, so every administrator, Gregorich included, has taken the Federal Emergency Management Agency classes on incident command centers and incident management, and it is being built into the school security philosophy.
The emergency management planning naturally feeds into overall security, says Gregorich. “It’s all integrated.”
Youth crime and violence problems in Union City are not just a problem for the schools to try to solve on their own, of course. “It’s a parent problem. It’s a community problem. It’s everybody getting together to solve these issues,” explains Gregorich.
To that end, the city has been involved in formulating youth-violence-prevention strategies, along with the community and a group called Congregations Organizing for Renewal (COR) that has created a youth-violence coalition to address the causes of shootings and violence.
The city has a public-safety parcel tax that property owners pay. Called Measure K, the tax was first passed in 2004. That tax is being reauthorized this year, and it now includes the allocation for $500,000 for youth services. That money would go in part to expand the intervention services unit. This unit offers counseling for at-risk youth or families in crisis.
The aim is to help 50 percent more people with the fund increase, says Acosta. The money will also go to a family therapy project that will include parents. “It’s not just the kids that are an issue, it’s their families and their parents, or the lack thereof, that are really the core issue,” he says.
“Gangs are surrogate families. There’s been a lot of research done about that, and they provide a rather perverse and pernicious family structure,” notes Acosta. The program’s goal is to see that the real family doesn’t crumble and force kids to turn to the substitution the gangs offer. Additionally, the funds will likely support a resource center, and the city is negotiating with the school district to use some of the school’s sites for the city’s counseling services, he says.
Union City is also hoping to fund a program for crime-data analysis that would yield statistics on who is perpetrating the crimes and when and where they occur.
There is a police component to Measure K as well. Acosta says that those funds will be used to add school resource officers to the middle schools. Currently, Logan is the only school with them. But it’s important to intervene with at-risk children earlier than high school. “A lot of the stuff that blossoms at Logan actually starts in the middle schools…the gang affiliations really get going,” says Acosta.
There are other ways the district works to prevent violence. The New Haven school district has a self-esteem program that has been in place for years. It helps students to respect themselves and each other as a way of avoiding some of the anger issues that can lead to violence.
Of the recommendations in GE Security’s assessment, some have been implemented and others will likely be rolled out for the next school year. As might be expected, there were some complaints from students about the increase in security. The James Logan Courier, the school’s student newspaper, reported that some students dressed in striped clothing to signify that they were inmates. There were also reports of signs and graffiti equating the school with a prison.
Most students, however, have taken the security changes well, says Gregorich. That’s important, because “everybody needs to be a part of the philosophy of security. Everybody has a role,” she says. “And it’s not enough to just tell the students, these are the rules. The students need to be empowered.”
Laura Spadanuta is an assistant editor at Security Management.