Portsmouth City Schools proactive about safety

Chris Dunham, PDT Sports Writer

December 19, 2012

Portia Williams

PDT Staff Writer

The Portsmouth City School District, in conjunction with the Portsmouth City Police Department, is working to ensure safety within the school buildings in Portsmouth and Sciotoville Community School.

The recent tragedy in Newtown, Conn. has caused school districts around the nation, as well as locally to reexamine their methods and procedures for safety in cases of emergency and crisis.

Superintendent of Portsmouth City Schools Scott Dutey said the district has always prioritized safety in its school buildings.

"We try to be proactive. The more you keep it on the forefront, the more you make it a priority. Parents’ primary concern is whether or not their child is safe in school," Dutey said.

Dutey said the Portsmouth City School District is fortunate to have Cory Sommers, a Sergeant of the Portsmouth City Police Department who also works as a Security Resource Officer for the school district. Sommers’ assignment is the Portsmouth High School/Junior High School building.

"I think that is a huge advantage for our district to be able to provide that service. Officer Sommers does a great job of keeping us informed of things that we may not see and (Portsmouth Chief of Police Rob Ware) obviously plays a big role in that as well," Dutey said.

Dutey said his district has continued to examine its methods for ensuring safety prior to the recent incident in Connecticut.

Tom Walker, an administrator at Portsmouth High School, said the district has strong safety practices already in place.

"Our buildings are locked throughout the day, the only entrance is through the main entrance, in which a person must be buzzed in, all visitors must sign in and get a name tag."

Walker said the Portsmouth City School District is a hard target for violence.

"If you become a hard target, which we are, you have to be one that makes criminals not want to attack a certain school," Walker said.

Walker said the determining factors of school safety are having locked school buildings and having a Security Resource Officer in place at the schools.

"When people know that these things are in place, it makes it more difficult to get hit and we have had great cooperation from the police and fire departments over the years, and I think that everyone has benefited from that," Walker said.

Chief of the Portsmouth City Police Rob Ware, said he has been inundated with calls since the Connecticut incident from parents, family, friends and members of the local community.

"Over the last couple of years, there have been some incidents, but now Connecticut brings it back to the forefront. Within the last year we have been looking at how law enforcement and schools respond to violence within the school and looking at different programs that are out there to determine what is most appropriate for our districts," Ware said.

Ware said their objective is to be proactive as opposed to being reactive. One step toward that objective is seeking out information from experts on school safety, which both the police department and the school district have done.

"We brought in Lt. Col. Grossman a couple of weeks ago and he is one of the nationwide experts on school violence and youth violence, to try to provide law enforcement and the educators with guidance about what to look for and how do we go about responding when we encounter those warning signs."

Ware said when it comes to the students, safety is the primary goal.

"Safety of the students is the single most important responsibility that the school administrators have and law enforcement shares in that. The more we work together and collaborate and look at what we are doing and learn from other events, the better off we are going to be at doing that," Ware said.

Ware said that it is important for people to be observant of their surroundings and to be quick to report anything that does not appear to be right.

"If you see something that doesn’t seem right, tell somebody because that might be the difference between us being proactive, and reactive," Ware said.

Portia Williams may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 286 or portiawilliams@heartlandpublications.com.