Superintendent, Students Focused On School Safety

NEWARK – Local officials reaffirmed their commitment to school safety this week hours after a school shooting in St. Mary’s County.

At Tuesday’s meeting of the Worcester County Board of Education, Superintendent Lou Taylor assured the community the school system and local law enforcement remained focused on ensuring that children were safe.

“This morning was an eye opener for me as superintendent of schools,” he said.

Taylor said he learned of Tuesday’s shooting at Great Mills High School in St. Mary’s County from local law enforcement.

“My heart literally was in my feet,” he said. “That could have been my kids in my school or our kids in our schools.”

Taylor said he spoke to Worcester County’s principals Tuesday morning and was meeting with them again after school that day.

“We discussed what we needed to do today to make sure everybody felt comfortable,” he said, adding that in the meeting after school they would focus on what to do moving forward. “I will assure you we’re going to do our very best. … Those kids are going to be protected if it’s the last thing I do. Together we’re going to make a difference.”

Recent school shootings throughout the country have also prompted concerns from local students. Last week, a group of students from Stephen Decatur High School (SDHS) set up a forum with school system leadership. Senior Michael Mareno, the school board’s student representative from SDHS, said close to 40 students attended the session at Stephen Decatur, during which ideas to enhance school safety and ways to make students feel safer were discussed.

“It was very productive,” Mareno said. “It’s something I hope to see in the future as well — those sort of meeting places where people in the higher positions and the people that are affected by the decisions they make can go back and forth and have an easy communication.”

Students suggested that school safety become a topic at events like freshman orientation day and parent conferences. Steve Price, the school system’s chief operating officer, praised students for taking the initiative to organize the forum.

“They came with a purpose,” he said. “They were respectful. We shared ideas, talked about ways to improve school safety ranging from what we were doing to what students can do.”

Price said the students involved planned to take it upon themselves to make an effort to connect with their peers. He said they wanted to make sure students sitting alone at lunch, for example, felt welcome at the school.

“I think that’s a big step,” he said.

School board member Doug Dryden said he was impressed with the students’ efforts.

“The most forward-thinking ideas about school safety and gun violence are coming from students,” Dryden said, encouraging them to stay involved. “Never stop speaking out.”

School safety also came up during a closed session meeting of the school board Tuesday. The board voted to accept an in-kind donation from Hardwire LLC that will set up a pilot program at Pocomoke High School.

“The pilot program would outfit Pocomoke High School with 30 emergency response shields strategically placed throughout the building in the event of a crisis,” said Carrie Sterrs, the school system’s coordinator of public relations and special programs.

Sterrs added that the board’s approval of the program came with certain stipulations — a “robust” training program for staff, students and law enforcement partners, an evaluation at the conclusion of the pilot program (at the end of the school year) and an ability to make adjustments to the placement of the shields.

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.