Cazenovia high School students Lizzie Druke and Clara Rowles participated in the March 21 School Safety Forum in the high school gymnasium. (photo by Jason Emerson)
More than 100 people — students, parents, Cazenovia community members, teachers administrators, and local and regional law enforcement officers — participated in a school safety forum at Cazenovia High School last week. The purpose of the event was to generate from attendees ideas, concerns, issues and proposals that the district administration can use and learn from as they continue working to improve district security and safety.
This was the latest in a series of meetings and events hosted by the district — in conjunction with the Project Café student group — to address an issue that has come to the forefront of local and national concern after the massacre of school children in Parkland, Fla., last month.
Rather than holding a meeting in the high school auditorium where administrators give a talk and then a microphone is passed to individuals in the audience interested in airing their opinions, the March 21 event was held in the high school gymnasium. Superintendent Matt Reilly gave a brief presentation of an overview of the district’s current safety measures and then attendees, seated at 16 round tables that held eight chairs each, spent 40 minutes collaborating on different issues related to school safety.
“We will use this information … in our safety planning,” Reilly said. “Your thoughts, your expertise, your concerns are vital to the process. We want to make sure everyone’s voice is heard, which is why we are doing this format. We also want to have a tangible product at the end.”
Each table had a discussion about the strengths, weakness, opportunities and threats regarding keeping Cazenovia students safe, and created poster pages of their ideas in all four categories. The pages were then posted on the walls of the gym in a gallery so everyone in attendance could walk around and see what people at the other tables came up with.
All the generates ideas will be posted on the district website in the coming week, Reilly said.
Parent Scott Phillips said the March 21 was “awesome,” and that the format of group discussions was a “good democratic process” that allowed everyone’s voice to be heard, particularly those who may not feel comfortable standing up in an auditorium full of peers and speaking their thoughts into a microphone.
Phillips said he felt deterrence was a major idea that needed to be presented to the district. “We’ve got to advertise that this [district] is not a soft target; you will not become famous [by attacking us].”
Parents Dan and Julia Smith agreed that the event was an excellent exercise in generating a vast array of ideas. They said their table talked a lot about addressing mental health issues and how to encourage students who may be shy or marginalized to feel part of the school community rather than outcasts.
“This has been really good; it has put my mind at ease because we are talking about it,” Julia said.
Dan agreed. “One of the issues to discus was the strengths of our district — a big strength was doing this event tonight,” he said.
Cazenovia Police Chief Michael Hayes said multiple people at the forum made similar comments to him. “I’m seeing a recurring theme tonight, with funding being an issue and not making our school a fortress,” he said. “This is a good start to finding a balance. There’s a lot of smart people in this community, including the students.”
Hayes said he was told multiple times that people want him, or one of his officers, to walk through the schools on a daily basis for added safety. He said this is currently not possible.
“People don’t understand that I am the only officer in this village on shift during the day. If they want more police on staff to give attention to the schools, they need to come to the village board budget meeting and say it,” he said.
CHS sophomore Jonathan Benn said he was glad to participate in the discussions as a student. “It’s nice as a student to be able to put my voice out there from inside the school … so the community knows what kids are saying and experiencing too,” he said.
Project Café student leaders who helped organize the event said they felt the evening brought out a lot of good ideas and fostered great collaboration between students, parents and district officials.
“It’s important to have this as a starting point and not stop here,” said senior Jamie Joseph. “We have to continue the conversation and put it into action.”
Junior Laura Connor said she was surprised to learn that parents do not really know what happens inside the school every day. Sophomore Clara Rowles agreed, and said the group discussions at the event was a great way for students, parents and community members to discuss the issues and better understand the other’s perspective.
“It was a really positive night,” said Reilly. “Walking around, hearing the rich conversations, we got really great thoughts on how to make school a safer place.”
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican and Eagle Bulletin newspapers.