School Committee Hears Update on Westford Academy Safety Issues
The committee heard from Westford Academy's new School Resource Officer as well as the results of the most recent Youth Risk Behaviors Survey.
Once just a dollar figure on a budget proposal, School Committee members were able to put a name to a face of the man hired to help allay parental concerns over drugs and other safety issues at Westford Academy.
Westford Academy School Resource Officer Justin Agraz came before the committee on Monday to talk about what’s been done so far during his time on the job as well as next steps to help make Westford Academy a safer place.
A seven year veteran of the Westford Police Department, Agraz was a Marine and Westford Academy graduate prior to coming onto this position in the fall.
School Committee members were hopeful that Agraz could serve not just as a protector, but also as a role model to help students not engage in risky behaviors.
“The very first thing is having a role model, having someone not too far from their age showing them what happens on a daily basis this is where you go when you do things right and having (someone) there to model that and say that for them,” said School Committee chairwoman Angela Harkness.
Westford Academy principal Jim Antonelli also held high praise for Agraz, citing him as a resource to help school officials with out-of-school threats that might impact students that before required additional communication with the Police Department.
Agraz may have his work cut out for him in some areas, as his introduction was followed by the results of Westford’s bi-annual Youth Risk Behaviors Survey filled out by middle school and high school students in town.
While the survey indicated some areas such as drug use had been falling recently, various other issues such as students contemplating suicide, students bringing weapons to school and recent alcohol use remained as concerns, particularly compared the average of other nearby schools.
Some members of the Committee felt that the numbers may be slightly high while others were skeptical that the students took the survey seriously at all.
Antonelli and Westford Academy Health and Wellness directory Sean O’Reilly told the board that comparable surveys have an error rate of about three percent and that the numbers might be high, but still are worthy of concern, such as 9.5 percent of students who could not identify an adult they could talk to about a problem at school and the 20 percent who were unsure they could talk to an adult about a problem at school.
“I think (30) is too high, but even if it’s 20, that concerns me,” said Antonelli.
School Committee student representative Emily Borst indicated that a possibility for some of the alarming figures comes from Westford Academy’s reputation.
“I think a lot of the self harm comes from a very high stress and high expectation environment,” she said.
The 2010 survey is available on the Westford Public Schools website, and O’Reilly indicated the 2012 survey will be published online soon.