New Castle News


April 1, 2013

Schools step up drills, safety measures

NEW CASTLE — Neshannock superintendent Dr. Mary Todora’s heart grows heavier with each safety measure her district implements.

“I never, ever thought when I went into education that we’d have to take these types of measures to protect these kids,” she said, referring to increased lock-down drills and police presence in the district’s two buildings.

Like other schools in the county, and nationwide, Neshannock’s increased emphasis on security comes in response to the December shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., which killed 20 students and six adults.

Noting that more than seven years ago, Neshannock formed a community partnership with township and state police, medical providers and other emergency services, Todora explained the perceived threat had always been more of a Columbine-type incident with the violence coming from a student or other insider.

“Until Newtown, I don’t think we’d really been thinking about school violence from the outside,” she said, adding that lock-down drills, which had been annual for the past three or four years are now a monthly event.

Those drills, designed to keep students safe and let them know what to do in case of an emergency, have also begun or increased in frequency since December in the neighboring Mohawk, Ellwood City, Shenango, Wilmington, Laurel and Union school systems, according to superintendents in those districts.

Attempts to reach New Castle Area School District security officials were unsuccessful.



While some schools across the country have upped the reality of their safety drills, utilizing mock shooters and emergency responders, local schools have not.

However, several districts, including Mohawk, Ellwood City and Laurel, have had or are planning “active shooter” trainings for faculty and all staff members including secretaries, cafeteria workers, maintenance employees and bus drivers.

Although students will not be part of the drills, Mohawk and Ellwood have discussed the possibility of including them.

“There are a lot of pros and cons to be weighed. I think we are all on a higher alert status after Newtown. We’re dealing with issues we’ve never had to deal with before, but we don’t want to do anything to frighten the students,” explained Mohawk Area School District superintendent Kathleen Kwolek.

Frank Aloi, Ellwood City Area School District superintendent, added, “We first want to make sure our staff can handle situations. Teachers are the first line of defense.”

Superintendent Dr. Sandra Hennon explained that in the Laurel School District “we have been blessed to have received grants from the Center for Safe Schools for the past four years. Working together with them, we have compiled a manual for each teacher to have at their desk that provides them the basis of what to do in an emergency.”



Also charged with insuring student safety are the security guards and police officers now patrolling most Lawrence County districts.

According to Wilmington superintendent Dr. Joyce Nicksick, guards were eliminated last year, but reinstated after the Sandy Hook tragedy. They are currently in training to be armed.

Likewise, Ellwood and Shenango have both hired security officers.

“We’ve been encouraged by the response from the community to our adjustments to our safety plan,” noted Shenango superintendent Dr. Michael Schreck.

In Neshannock, township police regularly patrol the schools.

 “They are familiarizing themselves with the buildings so if there’s a problem in Room 218, they know exactly where Room 218 is,” superintendent Tordora said.

Laurel, which had unarmed security guards prior to December, partners with the Hickory Township Police Department whose officers patrol the district’s two buildings daily.

 “I think having the security presence every day shows the community we believe in safe schools,” Hennon said. “The most important thing is to assure our students and their parents that safety is our top priority.”



 While more security personnel have been allowed into the local school systems, there has also been an increased emphasis on who needs to be kept out of the buildings.

“I think in the past things like bomb threats had been our focus, but since December we’ve all come to realize our focus should be on who has access to our buildings and our students,” explained Mohawk’s Kwolek.

Mohawk, along with Ellwood and Shenango, have recently installed computerized systems that scan visitors’ driver’s licenses to identify anyone who convicted of a crime against children.

Other districts have upgraded or modified security systems. Recent renovations at Wilmington’s junior/senior high school building included a restructured entrance and increased security cameras, moves superintendent Nicksick said were supported by parents.

“We have a shared goal, we were, are and will continue to be a safe place for our students. We will maintain a high level of security this year and every year,” Nicksick said.

 “The shock waves from Newtown even reached our little school district,” said Union superintendent Dr. Alfonso Angelucci. “But we feel we’ve addressed the areas that needed strengthened.”

Neshannock’s Todora added, “We are educators, but we must also provide for the safety of our children because when something like Sandy Hook happens, a community never recovers.”



Text Only | Photo Reprints
  • school.jpg Wilmington board debates ‘free expression’

    Wilmington Area school directors weighed student safety concerns against free speech rights Monday. A proposed policy on student free expression and posting of materials drew concern from one board member.

    April 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • meehan.jpg Meehan named Neshannock superintendent

    Terence P. Meehan is the new superintendent at Neshannock Township School District. Board members voted 5-4 last night to fill the post that will be vacated June 30 with the retirement of Dr. Mary Todora.

    April 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • fire.jpg Fire guts Union Township house

    The state police fire marshal is investigating a fire in that broke out in a vacant Union Township house Monday. Union Township firefighters responded at 3 a.m. to 314 Smithfield St.

    April 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • 08.jpg Photo Gallery, Story: Community Easter morning service

    There’s a reason why most holidays last only 24 hours. It’s because when you’re finished celebrating, there’s still work to be done. The Rev. David Young reminded everyone who attended Sunday’s community Easter morning service at Lawrence Village Plaza of that.

    April 21, 2014 1 Photo 1 Slideshow

  • money.jpg Retirements, attrition to save district money

    A slew of retirements in the New Castle School District may result in savings in the 2014-15  budget. The school district plans to introduce its spending plan next month.

    April 20, 2014 1 Photo

  • Fletch1.jpg No Retreat: Teacher’s golden retriever proves to be a hero, fighter

    It was last fall, and my favorite time of the year to be in the woods hunting. On this day, I could hunt small game and turkey, though my primary purpose was a hike in the woods with my dog, Maggie. This year was special. I also had my five-month-old golden retriever, Remi.

    April 19, 2014 2 Photos

  • fire.jpg Firefighters respond to gas leak

    New Castle firefighters responded to a gas leak Friday at the former Lincoln-Garfield school on Long Avenue. Assistant Fire Chief Mike Petrone said Columbia Gas received a call from someone in the 800 block of South Mercer Street about the smell of gas Friday morning.

    April 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • ATV.jpg City residents register complaints about ATVs

    Some North Hill residents expressed annoyance and frustration over youngsters recklessly operating all-terrain vehicles through their neighborhoods.

    April 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • Barletto.jpg Emotional Closure: Woman sentenced in Jerry McCarthy’s death

    The driver of the car that killed a Shenango Township policeman is heading to prison. Kylee Gwen Barletto, 26, apologized Wednesday to the family of William J. “Jerry” McCarthy and to her family after pleading guilty to eight of 16 charges against her.

    April 17, 2014 2 Photos

  • fire.jpg Fire marshal probes cause of blaze

    A city police fire marshal said he hasn’t ruled yet on a blaze that ravaged two Taylor Street houses. Chris Fabian, who was at the fire scene for the duration Monday morning, said the blaze that displaced three families started in the back of a yellow, two-story duplex at 602 Taylor St.

    April 16, 2014 1 Photo

House Ads

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal signed “unprecedented” legislation yesterday to expand gun rights in his state. Good idea?

Yes. Expanding the scope of where people can carry guns can help halt violent crimes and make those places safer.
No. Carrying guns into bars and schools is NEVER a good idea. I think it will lead to more violence.
Not sure, but I don’t plan to visit Georgia any time soon.
     View Results