The emergency training session is a win-win for safety as local police officers, including five from Wilmington, were given a chance to update their training, while other law officers were able to see the layout of the school. According to Wilmington Police Chief Joseph Szarejko, he and his officers attend these types of training routinely, and this is the first time in seven years that this type of training has been held in a local school. “It had a lot to do with the new design,” said Szarejko. “We knew the school presented differences in design and I wanted everyone to become more familiar with the school and brush up with new techniques too. This type of training is always good because it can be applied not just in our schools, but it can be used anywhere and in any school.”
Officers were taught proper techniques for clearing hallways and entering rooms by the state police tactical team. The maneuvers put an emphasis on protection, safety, proper entry, and effectiveness, and updated officers on new techniques, which, Szarejko said, have a tendency to change every time a shooting occurs. “They (police officers) become more proficient and confident in their ability to respond, because the techniques have changed since earlier school shootings. Every time there is a new one, we learn something different.”
As recently as last winter, Wilmington sent officers to Brattleboro High School for a training exercise, and Chief Szarejko has been to three himself. “It’s critical that all officers are trained the same so they can jump in to join others should we need to go to another area to assist, or vice versa.”
With both TVES and the merged Twin Valley High/Middle School undergoing large scale renovations and expansions in the past year, Twin Valley School Board chair Seth Boyd said that security was always a top priority, and that Szarejko has been an active partner and consultant in both the design process and in providing a police presence.
“One motivation for hosting this was so that all officers within reach of us, in event of something happening, would be familiar with the building, and know the exits and the classroom doors,” said Boyd. “This came from Chief Szarejko. He came to the board and said he’d like to do training at the school from a police presence perspective on both school security and what-ifs and the board was happy to host them.” Boyd also said the board is considering hosting the same training exercises at the new middle/high school after it opens.
Newer up-to-date measures have been taken at both schools to improve security. At the high school, students, visitors, and teachers will be able to enter the building using a key card swipe, cameras have been installed, and a focus has been put on narrowing entrances. Voters at Town Meeting decided not to support a proposed article that would provide an armed resource safety officer at the school, but Boyd said that was just one of many security components a school can use, and the idea of a police presence being at the school during peak times like basketball games may be an option in the future.
To Szarejko, having the training is crucial. “Here the response time is greater than you may find in some areas in northern Vermont where there are more departments close together,” said Szarejko. “It’s important to train so that those in the area can all coordinate quickly and respond with effectiveness.”