Dear Newark School Community,
As we are back to school this week, I wanted to keep you updated on some of the items that I last wrote about as winter break was starting. First, school safety. I met with Jay Flock, our Coordinator of Student Affairs, over break to discuss our safety and security protocols. Mr. Flock is a retired law enforcement officer who has much experience in this area. As a result of this planning session, we will be convening the District Safety Committee, followed by meetings of each building’s Safety Committee to gather input about what is working well and what are the areas in which we can improve. Of particular note will be a focus on entry to the buildings, how we can use the current capital project to round out our security camera placement as well as the number and nature of the drills for students and staff. When it comes to safety drills, I am a believer in the notion that we “play like we practice.” However, we will be taking into account the developmental readiness of our students and doing some more research on best practices related to this area. Reasonable people can have differences of opinion about this and I am looking to gather a variety of input before the full District Safety Committee reconvenes to make final recommendations. As school started this week, I asked for a little extra police presence at the High School during arrival and dismissal and Newark PD accommodated this request. This was intended to be reassuring, as we work through a challenging student situation. Also, it seemed prudent to send a visual signal that we have a great working relationship with local law enforcement.
As you are no doubt aware, there is a national movement around some walkouts being planned in connection with the latest school shooting in Florida. First, I want to state how impressed I have been by the passion and student voice that has been brought to this national conversation. Second, I want to let you know that in Newark, we will be working with the New York State Education Department, getting advice from our attorneys as well as (and most importantly) talking with our students about school safety issues in the coming days, weeks and months. It is not the place of the Newark Central School District to encourage or discourage a particular point of view on any one issue facing our society. It is our place to help students understand the broader context for these discussions and to keep them informed and safe as they navigate their own understanding and feelings related to the epidemic of school shootings and perhaps find their own voice.
As an update to another issue having to do with student voice, I want to let you know that over break, Mr. Roote and I met with Minister, Earl Greene of Wayne Action for Racial Equality (WARE), as well as two members of the Geneva chapter of the NAACP. We had a productive dialogue and we remain committed to working through this situation with our school community. Later this week, Minister Greene, Mr. Roote and I will meet with some students to discuss next steps and how best to move forward from their point of view. We all agreed that our attention needs be primarily focused on the students and the building climate and culture before we decide to broaden the conversation. I am personally grateful for the understanding and advice of WARE and the NAACP as we move forward and I know I speak for Mr. Roote when I say that we will continue to work hard to repair any relationships that need mending.
Connected to this topic, it may be helpful to know that prior to the assembly, there were already several key pieces in the works. As you may recall, we were the fortunate recipients of a My Brother’s Keeper grant, which we used to hire Julia Rodriguez to be our Family Engagement Coordinator and Janice Comer as our Parent Liaison. In addition to that, we contracted with the Warner School of Education at the University of Rochester to have our whole administrative team go through cultural competency training. That is scheduled to happen next month. Last, we have been in talks with a nationally known speaker who has local roots to begin some group work around race related issues. This was all part of a grant we received in 2017 and all of these items were planned prior to the events of the HS assembly, that highlighted this as an area in which we need to do some more work.
Last item for you all today is the Perkins Playground contest. I hope that you are voting every day and spreading the word to all folks 18 years and older. Our Director of Grants, Mark Miller, worked with Perkins PTA, students and staff over the break on interviews that ran in the Finger Lakes Times and a TV 10 spot that ran on WHEC and can be found on their website. Hopefully this positive publicity puts us over the top. Mr. Miller did some research and found that the two schools that are ahead of us in the voting right now are significantly larger communities. So, while we should be proud that we are still in it, we can close the gap if we all get the word out and vote!
Thanks for your time and continued support of our students as we work to achieve our vision.
Matt Cook, Superintendent of Schools
Dear Newark Families,
Safety and security are always a top priority in any organization that works with young people. Especially in light of the 18 school shootings just this year, with the most recent tragedy in Florida, school safety is more on our minds than ever. Over break, I’ll be meeting with Jay Flock, our Coordinator of Student Affairs, to review our safety protocols and after that, we will convene the District Safety Committee to discuss recommendations for any changes or additions to our practices. In the meantime, please encourage your children to say something, if they see something. More often than not, they can be the eyes and ears we need to have our pulse on what is happening in the buildings and the community.
You may have heard by now about Wednesday’s assembly at the High School that was about empathy. When our Principal was asked by some of our students to recognize Black History Month, part of his statement did not come out as intended and offended some in our High School. I am aware that some parents felt my statement to the press blamed the students for hearing the message wrong. That was not my intent. We are owning this and taking responsibility while working to rebuild and repair relationships with students and families. In fact, the day of the assembly, Mr. Roote apologized to the students and staff and invited any who wanted to come to speak with him that afternoon. Many took him up on this, but we recognize that the work is not done. We are willing to dig-in and help improve a difficult situation. To that end, I have already reached out to the Wayne Action for Racial Equality (WARE) President, Earl Greene. We will be meeting soon to discuss strategies for how to bring the school community together in the coming days and weeks.
My last bit of news is about a very exciting opportunity. Our Director of Grants, Mark Miller, entered Newark Central into a contest to win a $100,000 playground for Perkins Elementary. We are thrilled to announce that his work was so well received that we are one of the five finalist schools in this national contest. What I am asking is that all people age 18 and over, vote each day until the contest is over on March 15. As I write this, it seems to be between us and a school in Indiana. They have 1,514 votes and we have 1,114 votes. The next closest school is from Glens Falls, NY with 785 votes. Please click on the link below and forward this, post on social media, send to all your friends and family and encourage them to vote every day. I’ll send out periodic reminders and the Perkins team has done a great job coming up with some plans for how to get the word out.
Thanks for reading this and for your support of the Newark Central School District.
Matt Cook, Superintendent of Schools