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School board talks safety, community services

By TRAVIS WEIK - tweik@thecouriertimes.com

New Castle Community School Corporation is constantly looking for ways to protect students in the city school buildings.

School leaders are also looking for ways to give students and families social support they need outside of school, as a way to nip confrontations in the bud.

“School safety is front and center in everybody’s mind right now,” NCCSC Superintendent Dr. Matt Shoemaker said.

The superintendent recently toured each of the school corporation’s buildings to look for things that are working and identify areas that need improving.

Shoemaker updated the New Castle School Board Monday about safety features at the different buildings. He emphasized the 350 security cameras that are in all eight buildings, plus the three or four cameras on each school bus.

There are two school resource officers (SROs) in New Castle schools every day. Shoemaker hopes to increase that number next school year.

NCCSC parents can also opt into a text alert system with the schools so they will not miss alerts or emergency announcements if something happens in one of the buildings.

New Castle students and parents can also text anonymous tips straight to New Castle Police Department if they suspect weapons, drugs, abuse or sexual assault, bullying, thefts or vandalism was happening in one of the buildings.

The tip line can also be used to report depression, suicidal thoughts or self-harm.

Anonymous tips can be sent to 888-777, using the phrase TIP 33HELP followed by the message and the school’s name.

NCCSC Curriculum, Instruction and Elementary Programs Director Sherri Bergum also took a few minutes Monday to tell the school board about different ways school counselors are doing their part to improve building safety.

“A lot of safety comes from the social-emotional health of these children,” Bergum said.

New Castle schools hope to get the second part of a grant from the Lilly Endowment to help with new community partnerships and counseling initiatives.

Bergum said even if NCCSC doesn’t get the grant, the school social workers and counselors are determined to find some way to make these new programs work.

The goal is to bring social help to families in the schools so that families aren’t saddled with the extra burden of hunting down help when they are already struggling, Bergum said.

Dr. Shoemaker invited New Castle community members to attend the Long Term Planning Task Force meeting at 5:30 p.m. March 19 in the New Castle High School east cafeteria.

Shoemaker explained that the planning task force will be a volunteer corps of 50-60 local people who will help look at the categories of: finance and budget, enrollment, curriculum, facilities and operational issues.

The March 19 meeting will also cover the 10-year demographic projections for student enrollment that will help guide the decision-making process.

The Long Term Planning Task Force will work through February 2019 to come up with informed recommendations that they can then take to the school board. If the board accepts those suggestions, they could be implemented by the 2019-2020 school year.

“It’s going to be a lot of work, but I do believe it’s going to be extremely beneficial,” Shoemaker said.

The New Castle School Board also heard from United Voices, a student-led group that wants to end bullying, loneliness and the stigma surrounding mental health. These factors have played a roll in school violence across America in recent years.

United Voices is organizing a peaceful, silent demonstration April 20 in and around the Fieldhouse to give voice and remembrance to the victims of school shootings since the Columbine massacre April 20, 1999.

“It’s their First Amendment right to do that and it’s our responsibility to keep them safe,” Shoemaker said.

Dr. Shoemaker also invited the United Voices members, many of whom are also members of other student organizations, to be a part of the NCCSC Long-Term Planning Task Force.

“We need students on there, as well,” Shoemaker said.

In other business, the school board is seeking bids to replace a roof on a wing of New Castle High School. The school board agreed Monday to hire Stair Associates to work as architect on the project.

Pheffer expects the roof project to begin in June and be complete before school resumes in August.

The administrators will open bids at 2 p.m. April 9 and bring bids to the school board April 16.

Pheffer said there are other projects in the works, “everything from the carpet to the roof.” The focus on repair and maintenance work will be on improving safety while also not interrupting student learning. NCCSC also has to stay ahead of any potential building problems, Pheffer said.

The school board also voted Monday to approve the withdrawal of Union School Corporation from the New Castle Area Exceptional Services Cooperative. This is the co-op that provides special needs services to area schools.

Shoemaker explained that Union School Corporation asked to leave the co-op and all the other area superintendents had already approved the request. Local school boards now need to vote to make it official.

Shoemaker assured the school board that the change would not impact the NCCSC budget.

The superintendent also reminded the community that each New Castle elementary school will have its own Kindergarten Round Up from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. April 11.

The final piece of business was for the NCCSC school board to approve Jean Ann McAllister as the new principal for Wilbur Wright Elementary School after Tony Personett retires. McAllister is currently the principal at Sunnyside Elementary School.

The next New Castle School Board meeting is at 7 p.m. April 16 at 322 Elliot Ave. The date change is to let everyone get back in the business routine following Spring Break.