WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Mount Greylock Regional High School's superintendent Tuesday night added her voice to the thousands of school officials nationwide responding publicly to last week's school shooting in Newtown, Conn.
Rose Ellis, who over the weekend communicated by email directly to parents in the school districts she serves, spoke at the School Committee meeting about last week's tragedy and what measures the junior-senior high school has taken in recent years to make the building more secure.
"It's a very difficult and sad week for so many of us," Ellis said, extending the condolences of the Mount Greylock community to the grieving families in Newtown.
Ellis also praised the teachers, administrators and first responders for their heroism in dealing with the situation before taking the opportunity to update the community about ongoing safety efforts at Mount Greylock.
"On Monday morning, our crisis management team met, and they have been very active for a year and a half now," she said. "We're also looking at training going forward."
Ellis noted that the building's design, with 73 exterior doors, is an impediment to security. But she said the school has worked to limit the active entrances and exits and has cut the number of doors used at the beginning of the day from four to one.
That one door is equipped with closed-circuit cameras to monitor traffic, and visitors are now issued stickers when in the building.
In addition, Mount Greylock has worked with local police and fire departments to establish lockdown procedures, and the school has practiced those procedures, she said.
And in addition to security per se, the school has addressed broader safety issues by improving procedures for the arrival and departure of students, Ellis said.
"We've become vigilant in the morning and at dismissal," she said. "We've changed the traffic patterns. They're safer. We've rearranged the bus pickup. We've added personnel in the morning. Our facility supervisor Jesse Wirtes and Assistant Principal Christopher Barnes are out there monitoring vehicles."
After starting out with a sobering reminder of the safety issues schools nationwide are evaluating in light of last week's event, the committee's last meeting of 2012 struck a more celebratory note with the announcement and recognition of several accolades earned by Mount Greylock students during the first part of the school year.
The committee had hoped to honor the recipient of this year's Certificate of Academic Excellence, but the honoree, senior Hank Barrett, was unable to attend the meeting because he was in North Adams playing point guard for the varsity boys' basketball team.
Barrett was selected by Ellis from a pool of applicants meeting the criteria of "a distinguished three-year cumulative average (and) membership in the top 10 percent of senior students."
Barrett, who also played quarterback on the school's football team, is not the only student-athlete who was a high achiever at Mount Greylock this year. Principal Jack Kurty on Tuesday recognized all seven fall sports teams at the school for earning "Academic Excellence" awards from the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association.
Mount Greylock's boys and girls soccer and boys and girls cross country teams each posted cumulative GPAs of 3.5 or higher to earn the MIAA's gold award. The other three teams exceeded a 2.5 GPA to earn silver award recognition.
"It was an outstanding fall season," Kurty said. "But I don't want to measure that in wins and losses. It was an outstanding learning experience."
In its efforts to increase the learning experience for all of the school's students, Mount Greylock for the second straight year is participating in a "Think Tank" with representatives from Williams College to consider how best to utilize grant money from the Jeffrey family of Columbus, Ohio.
Over the last two years, the family has given the college and high school a total of $285,000. This year's $150,000 donation will be used primarily for professional development, technology and curriculum development.
Among the items the grant is funding this year: an outside consultant to look at the school's science curriculum, visits to model schools and a second year of a mathematics coaching program for the school's faculty.