Teachers practice evacuating from the Baker High School cafeteria at an active shooter training session March 16. (Photo by Ashley M. Casey)
Dec. 14, 2012, was the day that changed everything for Tom Czyz. That day, a 20-year-old man entered Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, and gunned down 20 first-graders and six school staff members.
“I realized I couldn’t keep my own kids safe at school,” said Czyz, an Onondaga County Sheriff’s Office detective who lives in Baldwinsville.
With nearly two decades of law enforcement experience under his belt, Czyz, a graduate of Baker High School, joined forces with military veterans, FBI profilers, former Secret Service agents and other law enforcement professionals to create Armoured One shortly after the Sandy Hook shooting.
The company assesses the security of schools, sells bullet/bomb-resistant glass and provides active shooter training for schools. Armoured One visited the Baldwinsville Central School District last Friday to teach faculty and staff what to do in the event of a school shooting.
“There’s no greater honor than teaching the people who are keeping my kids safe,” Czyz said.
Czyz and his team coached teachers through an evacuation scenario in the Baker cafeteria, taught them how to barricade classrooms and gave tips on the last resort: fighting off an attacker.
Trainer Mike Poland said teachers and students might have to make difficult decisions in the event of a shooting: Do you make a run for the exits or hop out a window two stories above the ground? Should you open your barricaded classroom door for a student knocking to be let in?
“In a critical situation,” Poland said, “sometimes the best decision is [choosing] between bad or worse.”
Baker math teacher Beth Fox said the training was “eye-opening.”
“It’s sad that we have to do that,” said Fox. “The day we had a threat, I came back to my classroom and spent 10 minutes thinking about where I would put kids. How many could I fit in the closet? How many can I put under the desks?”
Superintendent Matt McDonald said the mood in the district has been tense since the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
“Everybody’s walking on eggshells. Kids are scared. Staff are scared,” McDonald said. “It’s been nerve-wracking.”
McDonald said Armoured One’s training is only one component in the district’s security initiatives. For the upcoming budget, McDonald is proposing $6.5 million in security upgrades across the district, including replacement of locks, installment of security glass and the hiring of two additional school resource officers.
Two resource officers currently serve the school district: Baldwinsville Police Officer Marty Knaul is based at Baker, and OCSO Deputy Michael Nord is based at Durgee Junior High School. McDonald said he would like to have an additional officer based at Ray Middle School and one “floating” officer who would rotate among the elementary schools.
McDonald said the school community seems to be taking emergency drills more seriously, and he has received positive feedback from teachers about the district’s safety initiatives. He said he plans to invite Armoured One back to B’ville schools to present programs for students and parents.
“Nobody can do their job or learn if they’re looking over their shoulder and scared,” McDonald said.
Jennifer Terpening, assistant principal of 12th grade at Baker, said the training is “absolutely necessary.”
“I don’t think you could keep the children safe without a training like this,” she said.
As for Czyz, whose children attend B’ville schools, he said he appreciates the district’s outlook on school security.
“[Baldwinsville has] such a proactive superintendent. We really don’t see superintendents take the initiative,” Czyz said.
Ashley M. Casey is a reporter for The Baldwinsville Messenger and The Eagle Star-Review. She graduated from Le Moyne College in 2012 and previously worked for the Scotsman Press.