Resource officer starts at O’Maley

posted Aug 1, 2019, 10:33 AM by Maria Puglisi   [ updated Sep 8, 2019, 11:12 AM ]

$1.3M project planned for safer entries at middle school, GHS

By Ray L amont Staff Writer

Students returning to Gloucester’s classrooms Wednesday for the first day of their new school year will find new measures in place to enhance their safety. And more may be on the way.

O’Maley Innovation Middle School will begin the year for the first time with its own full-time school resources officer. Gloucester police Patrol Officer Peter Sutera will expand a role he began covering on a part-time basis last January, city and school officials said Tuesday.

Also, the city is looking at an estimated $1.3 million renovation of the entrances to O’Maley and to Gloucester High School to develop multi-lock entry and security systems that would provide more protection in the event that the schools’ students and staffers were confronted with an active shooter.

“School safety is not just about capital projects and the buildings,” said James Destino, the city’s chief administrative officer. “It’s about training, it’s about fire safety awareness. It’s about teachers, it’s about employees and administration. It’s about all aspects of protecting our schools from violence — that means, bullying,

threats. But this (entrance renovation project) would also be an important step.”

Destino said the city has met with representatives of Newburyport-based Dore & Whittier Architects about designing such a project. He said that, if the work is funded by the City Council, it could be carried out next summer, with a goal of having the new security measures in place for the start of classes in 2020.

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‘There to build relationships’

Sutera begins as a full-time resource officer at O’Maley immediately when Gloucester High, O’Maley and the five elementary schools welcome back first through 12th-graders on Wednesday. Gloucester’s kindergarten and preschool classes begin on Monday. A new year of classes in the Rockport and Manchester Essex Regional schools began last week. .

Sutera essentially joins Michael Scola, who returns as resource officer at Gloucester High. For the past six years, the city had a single officer based at the high school and who would rotate to the other schools when needed. The two posts are being funded to the tune of $60,000 each through the fiscal 2020 administrative and school budgets.

Police Chief Edward Conley said he has long been a strong backer of having resource officers in schools, noting that many residents and even some school personnel and students often misunderstand their purpose.

“People sometimes see it as they’re being there to catch the kids doing something wrong, when nothing could be further from the truth,” he said. “They’re there to build relationships with the kids that can last a long time. They’re there to be mentors.”

He said an officer’s presence at the middle and high schools can be especially effective.

“That’s the age where the kids often need somebody they can confide in,” he said. He noted that, in the aftermath of the Parkland shootings, Gloucester High students were able to approach Scola and “feel very confident and comfortable talking to the officer about (their concerns about a potential incident here.)”

Making students feel safe

Superintendent Richard Safier said he and other school officials have been meeting with Conley, fire Chief Eric Smith and other officials over the summer to review and update school emergency management plans. “We’ve been solidifying our incident command structure. In other words, who’s in charge, and how do

we make sure all the information is gathered into one room if there is an emergency,” Safier said. “If it’s a fire, then the Fire Department would serve as incident commander; if it’s something like a bomb threat, it would be the police. It’s all about knowing who the point person would be and making certain that person has that the information needed so that good judgments can be formulated in response.”

The steps are the latest in a series of security changes carried out by the city in recent years. All city elementary schools have surveillance, Destino noted, and all city schools are equipped with buzzer entry alerts that connect with the main office. The elementary schools also have interior classroom door locks if the need arises for a “shelter-in-place” scenario. There are 28 surveillance cameras throughout the Gloucester High building and O’Maley has 22 after some were added to cover the school’s hallways prior to the start of the last school year.

Safier said the addition of the O’Maley resource officer and the planned entrance renovations at the high school and middle school are important steps in ensuring that students feel safe and secure in their learning environments. They come in the wake of the Parkland, Florida, high school shootings. A 19-year-old former student left 17 people dead last Valentine’s Day in that incident.

Two weeks later, Gloucester police Lt. Michael Gossom, speaking to the School Committee, acknowledged that local police had carried out a number of interviews at Gloucester High after some students and others expressed concerns about the potential for such an event being carried out here.

“These are the kinds of modifications that are really called for in today’s safety environment,” Safier said.

“Times are changing, and the psychological piece (through safety concerns) can weigh heavily on students as well,” Safier said. “We want the kids to be as safe as possible so they don’t need to think about it.”

Ray Lamont can be reached at 978-675-2705, or rlamont@gloucestertimes. com.