Importance of security is taken very seriously

Given the recent coverage of the SRO presentation on surveillance cameras and life safety, it is understandable that some might be concerned about the level of security at Souhegan. It also is understandable that police officers would want to utilize as many cameras as possible (90 was the recommendation) to help them achieve their job of protecting our schools.

However, what was missing from their presentation was: 1) A survey of students, staff and parents to assess the stakeholders’ views on safety at Souhegan , 2) Data on the number of incidents over the past ten years that would cause us to believe that life safety was a concern, 3) A comprehensive review of measures (other than interior cameras) that could be utilized to improve safety/security, and , last but not least, (4) use of a longstanding partnership with Community Council to research and vet all proposed security enhancements to Souhegan.

Over the past 10 years, the Board, administration and Community Council have worked collaboratively to assess safety and security at Souhegan. A long list of changes have been adopted over the years, including: 1) Installation of a remote exterior door locking system, 2) Wider lockers for students to store their backpacks, 3) Exterior parking lot cameras, 4) Improved interior door locks, 5) Additional parking lot lighting, and 6) A caller ID phone system, to name just a few.

In keeping with past collaborative efforts, the Souhegan Board supported the formation of a Community Council security committee to perform a comprehensive review of security. Meeting throughout the summer, the Security Committee, comprised of faculty, students, a school board member, and members of the community at large, made it their mission to examine ways to maximize safety for all, while minimizing risk – including risk taking behaviors that are not necessarily minimized or solved with cameras.

The research methodology included a review of the literature, reports from previous Security Committees, ten years of incident and behavior data, and consultation with the SRO and administration. On Sept 7, the committee presented a preliminary list to the Board of both budgetary and non-budgetary security enhancements that are under consideration.

Because of the magnitude of this task and the short time frame in which Community Council had to do a comprehensive review, Council asked for an extension of the reporting deadline in order to determine the location and number of any additional exterior or interior cameras, consider additional measures, collect more data on what other high schools are doing, give Community Council a chance to discuss and vote on the measures being considered and administer a survey to all the stakeholders regarding safety. The Board agreed to the extension and will receive the committee’s final recommendations at the end of November.

In the meantime, the Board discussed planning for any security items with budget impact with the idea of making adjustments depending on which items the Board ultimately chooses to bring before the taxpayers this budget season. The Board also voted to schedule a Public Forum on October 16 to present information on security measures being considered for Souhegan and receive feedback from the public.

It is important that our communities feel reassured that the issue of security has always been and will always be taken seriously by the stakeholders at Souhegan. To date, many significant enhancements have been made based on the collaborative work of the Board, Administration, and Community Council. The same thoughtful work is being done now to determine what works best to keep Souhegan safe.

Jeanne Ludt is a member of the Community Council and Security Committee Member. She lives in Amherst.

Community Council is the governing body of Souhegan with its authority derived from and delegated by the School Board. It consists of 47 voting members representing all the stakeholders (students, faculty/staff/administration, School Board and community members. They meet weekly to discuss and vote on proposals that have an impact on Souhegan. The public is welcome to attend.