New campus safety staff begin at East Lyme schools

East Lyme — Niantic Center School Principal Jeffrey Provost stood before a class of third-grade students sitting at their desks with pencils and workbooks Thursday morning to introduce them to the building's new safety and security person.

Chuck Ward — or Mr. Ward or Mr. Chuck — is here "to make sure you're safe every day and that every day you're here at Niantic Center School is a great day for you," Provost told the students during their first week of school.

Ward, dressed in khaki pants and a maroon shirt that said East Lyme campus safety, told the students he enjoyed seeing all their smiling faces coming through the front door, and the smiles and high-fives if they're dismissed early.

"If you need anything, that's one of the things I'm here for: to help you guys, to answer any of your questions, or if you have something you need to talk about," Ward said. "That's what I'm here for."

The East Lyme school district moved for this school year to hire campus safety and security staff at the elementary schools and middle school in addition to the high school. Superintendent of Schools Jeffrey Newton said in a phone interview that the personnel are intended to bring an increased awareness of safety and traffic flow coming into and out of the buildings, providing consistency across the district.

In hiring the four staff members, the district looked for individuals with backgrounds in safety and security who understood the school-age population and collaborative approaches to working with parents, he said.

These personnel will provide "an additional pair of hands and eyes" for safety and security, for example, checking doors in the building, he said. They can also respond to any security issues or suspicious incidents, for example, an intoxicated person in the parking lot.

The staff members also know the schools' emergency operations plan, as the district's director of safety and security met with them to run through the plan.

They can also serve as another support person in the building for students to talk to and direct students to appropriate resources, he said.

"Just given where we are in society today, it's our obligation as administrators and running a school system to ensure we are providing the best safety and security for students," Newton said. The district previously employed greeters at the schools, but included an extra $9,000 in the budget to hire the campus safety and security staff instead.

Ward, 47, the safety staff person at Niantic Center, retired as a corrections officer at York Correctional Institution and previously served in the military. A graduate of East Lyme High School, he grew up in Niantic, and his parents taught at the former junior high school.

Provost, the Niantic Center School principal, said in an interview that Ward is there to ensure that everyone's safe and that the building is running smoothly. His duties include assisting Provost with emergency or weather-related drills and checking identification from visitors at the front desk.

Provost said Ward's role is to notify him of any issues and handle them in a way that's not intrusive to the culture and climate in the building — and he's off to a great start.

"We've tried to make this as non-intrusive as we can, but at the same time make our kids as safe as they can be," he said.

Ward said East Lyme is being proactive, and many other schools have gone the same route for the safety of students and staff.

He said he wants to serve as a "front line" to show the community that their kids are safe. He said he and other campus safety personnel are there to ensure that parents feel happy and safe that their children feel happy and safe coming to school, as well as ensure that the staff also feels safe.

"My goal is to just be here as the front man for kids to feel safe and happy, the first person they see with a smile on their face and a 'good morning,'" Ward said.

k.drelich@theday.com

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