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U46 discusses safety and  security after Sandy Hook

Updated: February 10, 2013 5:50PM

ELGIN — The week between the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., and winter recess in area school districts was “an unusual time for all of us,” according to School District U46 Superintendent Jose Torres.

There was “the anticipation of winter recess and of spending the holidays with friends and family,” Torres said. There also was reflection “on the preciousness of life and heightened awareness needed to ensure the security of our staff and students,” he said.

That’s according to the superintendent’s third safety update that week to U46 staff, parents and community members, sent the Friday district schools recessed.

And on the day those schools reopened, after a moment of silence for the students and teachers killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School and an emotional update about the Elgin district’s response, officials shared the district’s annual safety and security update with the U46 Board of Education.

That report Monday showed some progress toward the district’s goal of creating safe and nurturing environments in its schools. And it called its goal feasible to train all U46 staff in crisis prevention by 2015.

“We’re making sustained and good movement toward reaching our goal in the next two years,” U46 Safety Coordinator John Heiderscheidt said.

Half of goals met

U46 exceeded half its safety goals for last school year, according to that report.

Out-of-school suspensions for fighting dropped 22.7 percent, the report said. The district had targeted 15 percent. And those same suspensions dropped a 52.3 percent for weapons, where the district also had targeted a 15 percent decline, it said.

The number of suspensions for drugs and alcohol also dropped last school year (1.7 percent). That didn’t hit that 15 percent goal, but Heiderscheidt said, “It’s not an increase, and we’ve been seeing increases the past five years.”

That means the district was shy of its goal to reduce all out-of-school suspensions by 15 percent, reducing them instead by 10.8 percent.

The district’s goal for the current, 2012-13 school year is once again to reduce all those suspensions by 15 percent, according to the report. The goal in its five-year accountability plan, Destination 2015, is to reduce those suspensions for fighting and weapons by 75 percent and for drugs and alcohol by 50 percent between 2007-08 and 2015.

But, Heiderscheidt said, “I do believe a continued goal of dropping suspensions 15 percent each year … will achieve our goal of Destination 2015.”

U46 also has set a goal to put 100 percent of its staff through Crisis Prevention Institute training by 2015

The number of employees the district has trained has increased 36.7 percent from this time last year — to 38 percent, according to Heiderscheidt. That includes 14 of 40 elementary schools, six of eight middle schools, one of five high schools, one of three alternative schools, and both early education centers, the report said.

And the district has focused on building community school safety partnerships. As part of that, the School Safety Advisory Task Force conducted an emergency exercise with the Elgin Police Department simulating a school shooting in July at Gifford Street High School, Heiderscheidt said.

Board member Maria Bidelman praised the district’s safety efforts, particularly after the school shootings last month.

“You made a very large district feel very small and safe,” Bidelman said.

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