Eric Waddell, superintendent of schools in Kittery, has made safety a top priority for the 2018-2019 school year. Credit: Deb Cram | Portsmouth Herald

KITTERY, Maine — This year’s welcome assembly for school district staff will include three hours of training addressing active shooter response, first aid, suicide prevention and other various safety modules.

Also new this year, the district will roll out two safety-related applications, one being an anonymous tip line for students, parents and community members to report potential risks.

The Wednesday training, titled “Safety For All,” is a yearlong campaign kickoff within the school district, according to Superintendent Eric Waddell.

Waddell also plans to share updates with staff on the new devices and technology obtained through grant funding to increase safety measures and prevention efforts.

Waddell said last year both the School Committee and district focused quite a bit on the social and emotional safety of students and staff. “For our opening assembly this year, our focus will be on student and staff physical safety at a time when schools nationwide are feeling quite vulnerable,” he said.

The assembly will be anchored by a training session co-facilitated by school resource officer Jay Durgin and Portsmouth police detective Rochelle Novelski, focusing on citizen response to an active shooter. The training will address essential questions like how to eliminate or minimize casualties in the event of a shooter, Waddell’s memo to staff read.

[Maine police, teachers: ‘We need to rethink’ safety procedures after school shootings]

Waddell said he and Durgin also plan to share information about a device funded by the Traip Academy Trustees through its grant program to further secure classrooms during a lockdown. Called Barracuda Door Stoppers, the devices are said to be an easy and effective way to make classroom safe zones more secure, and buy the necessary time for law enforcement to intervene in a situation.

Shay Stathopolos, lead school nurse for the district, will introduce a campaign called “Stop the Bleed,” an educational initiative on how to control bleeding in an emergency to be rolled out this fall, first to volunteers and then all employees. Stathopolos and volunteers from Maine Medical Center will train the first wave of teachers, and Kennebunk Savings has awarded the district $1,000 to pay for necessary supplies.

Continuing the safety theme, a clinician from Sweetser, a behavioral health organization in York County, will offer a training related to suicide prevention, addressing certain behaviors and the science behind identifying them.

Waddell and District Data Manager Nancy Embry will announce two safety-related technology applications for the new academic year. Safe Stop, a school bus tracking app, will allow parents and school officials to securely track the school bus, see its arrival at their bus stop, and alerts in real time about delays and disruptions. The app will be provided at no charge by Ledgemere Transportation.

The second safety application will be an anonymous tip line, with links available on all school websites, giving the community an option to alert school officials of potential risks. Waddell said the platform is School Messenger, the same one he uses to make delayed start or school cancellations.

[VIDEO: Portland police take part in active shooter training]

Traip Academy Principal John Drisko said the high school will continue its safety-focused efforts from last year, including consistent reviews of crises protocols with staff and students. Drisko said this year, rather than holding school-wide assemblies, staff hope to move some of those conversations into advisories, where one staff member oversees 10 or so students. That way, students may feel more comfortable asking questions or talking about their own feelings.

“Our message has been, ‘We are the ones who can control most of this,’” Drisko said. “Certainly, we can’t control everything, but if you know something or you see something, tell someone.”

During his first year at Traip last year, Drisko said he quickly learned it’s “tighter than any other school I have been in.”

“The doors outside are locked, there’s one way in,” he said. “Those particular windows are shatter-proof basically. It’s hard to get in, but it’s easy to get out.”

Drisko noted the anonymous tip line being introduced this fall was a suggestion from a parent or student last year. The school district quickly acted on it.

School Committee Chairwoman Julie Dow echoed Drisko’s sentiments of “see something, say something,” adding, “We’re in the mind that if people don’t feel safe, they can’t learn.”

The schools have great relationships with the Kittery Police Department and fire chief, Dow noted, and are in regular communication with them about safety measures. The latter, she said, will continue to be the district’s priority all year long.

“Crises have been able to be averted because people were paying attention and spoke up,” she said. “You can’t underestimate how important that is. It can make a really, really big difference. That also comes back to promoting that environment where it feels safe to do that.”

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