School Committee Tackles Ideas on Stemming School Drug Use

A preliminary hearing on Monday night brought several recommendations from increased, but infrequent searches at Westford Academy to new classes to the addition of a potential new school resources officer.

Looking to fight the issue of drugs in Westford Public Schools, Superintendent Bill Olsen recommended several new initiatives to the School Committee on Monday night for decisions to be determined at a future meeting.

The proposals grew from a forum earlier this year on the topic of drugs in town hosted at Nabnasset Lake Country Club as well as frequent discussions with Selectman Andrea Peraner-Sweet, Westford Academy principal James Antonelli, Westford town manager Jodi Ross and Westford Police chief Thomas McEnaney.

Olsen’s proposals included planning several unscheduled walkthroughs at Westford Academy and possibly the town’s Middle Schools by Westford Police K9 Officer Corey Peladeau, potentially looking at bringing in speakers and adding new courses on the decisions of drug use and adding a school resource police officer at Westford Academy.

The superintendent stressed the professionalism of the Westford Police force during searches and noted that they would be performed on an infrequent basis, also adding that the officer would work in plain clothes while at the school.

Training of the proposed school resource officer would take approximately six to 10 months and would require removal of a current police officer from the Westford Police roster or the hiring of a new one, with initial funding coming from Town Meeting approval.

If approved, it would mark the first school resources officer at the Academy since 2005.

School Committee member Erika Kohl applauded the concept of an officer, but cited concerns over the possible $35,000 salary, particularly after the recent and extended teachers’ contract dispute.

“For years, we’ve been cutting and we’re at flesh and working toward bones,” said Kohl. “I don’t feel comfortable that we’d done the due diligence that all the critical needs that have been met in our budget, I can’t go to the voters personally and say spending $35,000 on drugs is better than $35,000 on on the reading program that we lost against our peer towns.”

School Committee member Margaret Murray also had concerns, agreeing that something should be done, but asking for more research to be done on the effectiveness a school resource officer would have.

“It’s not that I don’t believe we have a problem, because we do have a problem, but I’m not convinced that this is the solution,” she said.

However, School Committee chairwoman Angela Harkness spoke in opposition to these concerns, noting the need for a school resources officer.

“We can’t educate if the students aren’t safe and healthy, and what we’ve been hearing is there are concerns about their safety and health,” said Harkness. “We need to look at Nashoba Tech where they have come to the conclusion that they needed to have this officer and we’ve had this officer in the past, and we’re seeing the consequences of not having one now.”

School Committee members also noted creating mandatory parental responsibility would also be a key factor, comparable to what is currently faced in the situation of student athletes who face suspensions from sports teams for school disciplinary actions.

Additionally, Olsen indicated that a new monthly disciplinary report based on substance abuse incidents that would not name students will be provided to the public starting this year.

“There’s no reason for this information to be withheld,” he said.

Martin Luther September 06, 2012 at 05:18 PM
Written like an individual who saw the movie but never walked a rice paddy. My spouse, a middle WPS teacher, and many of her co-workers, could easily identify students with emotional, drug and alcohol issues. These students are referred to counselors and social workers for follow up and corrective action. An untrained policeman, according to the Chief, it will take 6 to 7 months of training, packing a weapon will not make a major contribution to the solution of the drug problem in the WPS. Teachers, Administrators and parents have to unite to form a coalition dedicated to the eradication of drugs from the WPS. The community at large can assist by dropping a dime on suspicious activities.
Bev September 06, 2012 at 07:17 PM
Oh they are dropping dimes over at WA but not the type you probably mean, but better safe than sorry I say spend the coin on an officer Friendly to police the kids for dope
Martin Luther September 06, 2012 at 10:07 PM
Shortly after I moved into Westford, Officer Friendly shot a 16 year old kid who was trying to pass off a false prescription at the Nab Drugstore. The druggist doing his civic duty called the WPD. Officer Friendly responded and the kid started running. Officer Friendly pulled his trusty pistol out and put one or more bullets in the kid's back. The kid did not survive and the town settled with his family for ~$16,000. A while later the same Officer Friendly killed a mentally ill woman in front of what is now Mrs Harde's estate. His alibi was that the woman tried to run him over. It was reported that when Officer Friendly discharged his gun, he had his arm in the front passenger area and fire the weapon several inches from the "dangerous criminal or mentally disturbed woman" head. Officer Friendly and the Town got a free pass. I could spend many an hour writing about the excessive use of force by law enforcement personnel "I call it the Miami Vice Syndrome" in all areas of the country. The teachers and administrative personnel of WPS can and should do the job. Parents should set a good example for their children and not smoke a joint, do a line of coke or get drunk for relaxation.
Bev September 06, 2012 at 10:25 PM
Doesn't sound friendly at all! Detective Perciballi was at WA and was great and didn't recklessly discharge his gun left and right
Dan D. September 06, 2012 at 11:26 PM
Very well said
Martin Luther September 07, 2012 at 02:09 AM
Did any of the students try to pass a false prescription? Two cops in Lowell fire 9 shots to subdue an injured dog. Read the Globe and the NY Times and you will many instances of excessive use of force at the Miami Vice environment syndrome. Are you concerned with the eradication of drugs from our community or the creation of another "Do Nothing Municipal Position."?
Alex Finnegan September 07, 2012 at 05:27 AM
"Olsen’s proposals included planning several unscheduled walkthroughs at Westford Academy and possibly the town’s Middle Schools by Westford Police K9 Officer Corey Peladeau" I have been saying this from the first day I heard of this. That is all you need to do. It would cost very little. People are making this problem a lot harder than it needs to be. I'd also like to know the hard numbers. Things like this are going to happen in any school, shooting for perfection is futile. But random drug dog walk throughs would end the problem quickly. Do them two, even three days in a row sometimes. I don't have the link but there was an experiment done with dogs a while back. 2 groups of dogs. One group was always given consistent discipline, after enough time the dogs knew exactly what to expect. The other group discipline was totally random severe punishment for minor infractions, at other times, praise for the same infraction. The dogs didn't know which way was up. The experiment was to find out which group of dogs were more obedient in the end. It was the second group of dogs because they never knew what was coming if they didn't listen, so they were very attentive and obedient (and anxious) The first group was able to weigh risk vs reward, the second could not. Random canine searches, sometimes days in a row so the students never know if "the day after" is safe. It will lower the problem I guarantee it so long as it is random and unannounced (no leaks)
Alex Finnegan September 07, 2012 at 05:35 AM
The above principle is used in business of all types all around the world. Keep people on their toes. It is not the mystery the S.C. and Olsen spin it to be. It's been tested and proven to work, its cost effective, it's simple. It could be in place by next week. Keep the officer unarmed so no incidents like Jesse was talking about are possible. Why we are sitting around still mulling this issue over is astounding. Who is running this show?
Diego September 07, 2012 at 08:46 AM
I thought I read Westford was so broke it couldnt pay its teachers last year's step increase till the end of next year? If that is true I dont see where there is 'extra' money laying around for new officer friendlys (or anything for that matter). Seems to me this would send the message to town employees that there is conveniently money when the town wants there to be and vice-versa, There is about $500,000 a year in annual salary over at WA with the 4 Administrative positions- seems that is more than enough to find a few reefer joints or coke bags.
westford resident September 07, 2012 at 11:53 AM
i thought there was a push to not let him have a handgun? I believe he should have it but am curious whatever happened to that talk
Ken T September 07, 2012 at 01:51 PM
Focus on NEASC MCAS and rankings who cares about students taking a bong hit before physics class ?
Vincent DiRico September 09, 2012 at 11:41 AM
http://www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/2012/09/08/growing-drug-problem-being-addressed-high-schools/aag1OD30beTb15YAHckDBN/singlepage.html so it appears the officer is a done deal? I can't see him having a lot of business after the first 2 or 3 reports (see John's comment above), the faculty should have better control inside the building!
Bob Sacamno September 09, 2012 at 03:57 PM
Life lesson: when the town wants to 'find' $$$ there is never a problem doing so, remember that next contract negotiation when sure as smurf you can bet the town will cry 'no magic money tree'
Bob Sacamno September 09, 2012 at 05:40 PM
I am happy the school is getting tough on dope, any guesses on the # of kids expelled is gonna be?
Alex Finnegan September 09, 2012 at 08:44 PM
"the faculty should have better control inside the building!" How do you propose they do that? Search their bags & pockets? & anyone who wants to exchange drugs is going to do it where there are no faculty. Should the faculty start doing stall raids? "I thought I read Westford was so broke it couldnt pay its teachers last year's step increase till the end of next year?" They were paying for it with a grant so no cost to the town. "Focus on NEASC MCAS and rankings who cares about students taking a bong hit before physics class ?" I'm sorta w/you on MJ but letting coke spread through the school is a bad idea. But the parents have the most control on the kid. Not that a kid doing drugs = bad parents. Mine were great, didn't stop me from a 3 year, crazy experimenting phase. But if a kid has drugs in school pointing the finger at the teacher is silly. The article Vincent posted said the decrim of MJ sent the wrong message to kids. Booze is a far more dangerous drug yet we advertise it, sell it, tax it, & expect people to use it responsibly.DUI-ers don't go to jail till the 4th or 5th time. I've never had an altercation w/a pot head, been rear ended by a pot head. Filling Jails with them is extremely counterproductive to the tax payer & the "offender". Thats what the decrim was about. If kids are getting that message, I think it's the right one. We are afraid of implying a truth that they are just finding out on their own.
Vincent DiRico September 09, 2012 at 11:50 PM
searches, stall raids, WHATEVER is needed, it is about time the malcontents dropped a dime or 2 (to admin and then police if needed), I would think $25 million would cover this, I am sure it does in the surrounding communities
Alex Finnegan September 10, 2012 at 12:12 AM
Ok, well both of those are illegal and/or against school rules. "I am sure it does in the surrounding communities" You are sure? You think surrounding communities teacher's are searching kids bags and pockets and kicking down stall doors? And $25 million is not a lot of money in a district the size of westford, I pointed that out to you in another post about WA being in the top 22. Check that thread again to see what I'm talking about.
Citizen K September 10, 2012 at 09:36 PM
Nothing would surprise me. Students are already considered guilty before proven innocent. They are punished w/o being given their day in court via a memo of understanding with WPD. Their rights are being trampled on daily and are losing respect for the authorities.
Vincent DiRico September 10, 2012 at 11:50 PM
"I would think $25 million would cover this, I am sure it does in the surrounding communities" -> keeping control of the building, after-all safety is JOB #1, without it we might as well close the place down. Save your facts and arguments for the next contract negotiation, given the results they produced this last time I wouldn't wait for a phone call!
Vincent DiRico September 10, 2012 at 11:58 PM
the kids follow the rules set by the faculty (just as kids and their parents), memo of understanding? my kids would understand and there wouldn't be a memo involved! If there are issues you know about then go see the superintendent
Alex Finnegan September 12, 2012 at 12:39 AM
Vincent Facts are what we need to base things on. Fact is teachers can't bust in stall doors. There will always be a place the faculty aren't. In my day kids put joints in Bic pens. Lockers had slots in them. Ask to go to the bathroom during class, walk by a locker & slip it through the slot. Drugs flow through prisons which have guards, cameras, cavity searches & much lower ratio of guard to prisoner than teacher to student. IMO kids bringing drugs to school is the parents responsibility. But most parents aren't kicking in bathroom doors, tossing kids rooms, at least the ones whose kids are bringing drugs to school aren't. But the teachers are expected to? So, kid leaves home w/drugs in pocket, & goes to school, is that the teachers fault? When during the course of the day does it become the teachers fault? After said kid brought drugs to school it's the teachers job to sniff them out? School is a place to learn. That is what teachers are paid to do. Parent's are expected to get their kids to school dressed appropriately, arrangements for food, prepared & yes, w/o illegal substances. Parents do the raising, disciplining, snooping & monitoring. They need to be in the loop on what their kids are into, who their friends are etc. If parent's can't be successful keeping drugs out of their home, w/much fewer people, & more access to the kid's lives how can teachers in the much larger school, w/hundreds of kid? Lets get real about our expectations.
Alex Finnegan September 12, 2012 at 12:55 AM
Also, "the kids follow the rules set by the faculty (just as kids and their parents), memo of understanding?" The kids bringing drugs into school aren't. But to be clear, teachers do not make the rules in school. That is your School Committee, Superintendent & sometimes B.O.S. Teachers have nothing to do with it. All those zero-tolerance policies people get so upset about sometimes (myself included) those aren't made by the teachers. Nor are the school lunch program, the bus schedules or the snow days. So any time you talk about school rules you should associate them Olsen and the S.C., not the school faculty. Lest people think you want to blame teachers for everything.
Vincent DiRico September 12, 2012 at 12:55 AM
If a malcontent can post "I told you so", "you should see what I saw", ... comments on here then he/she should have done more during the school year.
Alex Finnegan September 12, 2012 at 01:18 AM
"If a malcontent can post "I told you so", "you should see what I saw", ... comments on here then he/she should have done more during the school year." You don't know what they saw, what they did about it any of the extenuating circumstances. You have zero details so you have no real basis to say what he/she should have done. Your "rules set by the faculty" comment also tells me that you don't understand who makes the rules or what they are, so you don't understand how in many instances teachers hands are tied. They only way a teacher is allowed to lay hands on a student is if he is going to physically harm himself or another kid. In many instances the teachers saying "I told you so" reported what they saw & it never went anywhere. We want teachers to change the world, & accept pay decreases, raise our kids when it's convenient, threaten to sue when it's not, want them to over reach when it helps us out & tear their head off when they get in our business. You truly have no idea what it's like to run a classroom full of diverse kids from diverse backgrounds of all different abilities as well as deal with the parents. It seems you have it all figured out. Since it pays so well, with outrageous benefits I'm a little confused as to why you haven't joined the ranks to show 'em how it's done.
Martin Luther September 12, 2012 at 01:49 AM
Based on the knowledge and superior intellect of Alex Finnegan, I nominate Alex Finnegan for Supt. of the Westford School System.
Alex Finnegan September 12, 2012 at 01:55 AM
I'm flattered Jesse. But as I have mentioned many times I have no college education, therefore would not qualify for the job. Also, you have stated you are very happy with Olsen's performance what changed your mind?
Monsanto September 12, 2012 at 08:18 AM
Still waiting for a live chat with Antonelli or Olsen. From what I hear at the highschool all 4 administrators are much more focused on walking around the building with their new iPads than rooting out narcotics in the building. Bring on officer 'friendly'
Martin Luther September 12, 2012 at 04:43 PM
I believe in using the best qualified person for the job,Alex. You have demonstrated a range of knowledge and insight that is seldom seen much like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Steve Wozniak. None of these individuals completed college but their contributions to the application of technology to a variety of areas mark them as a major contributors to the advancement of the human knowledge. As many parents and students have discovered or soon will discover, a college education is the biggest fraudulent scheme perpetrated on the US. A trillion dollars of student debt with paper degrees that are worthless. The recent cheating scandal at Harvard revealed that even the Ivies generate courses with very low requirements so their jock heads can maintain academic qualification to participate in sports. BTW Harvard College is not an accredited institution. Why? The leaders of Harvard College feel that there is not organization qualified to sit in judgment much like the Chicago school teachers, with an average salary of $76,000 plus very generous benefits for 180 days of work, turned down a 16% pay increase over 4 years.
Martin Luther September 12, 2012 at 04:49 PM
You can always attend a SC meeting and ask your questions and voice your concerns during the time reserved for public input. BTW Hearsay information is usually wrong so become informed and join the Westford LWV to get accurate information.
Alex Finnegan September 12, 2012 at 09:39 PM
"like the Chicago school teachers, with an average salary of $76,000 plus very generous benefits for 180 days of work, turned down a 16% pay increase over 4 years." I would have to look into the details of the contract as there are so many other things that play a role. They may have turned it down for a totally different reason. I.e. when I worked at Verizon we turned down a contract that kept health insurance free for the employees (100% company covered) and a pay increase. The reason it was turned down (against my advice) was that in included putting GPS in all the vehicles so Verizon would know where everyone was at all times and for how long. The workers didn't like that. So the article printed in the paper at the time mentioned the benefits and raises and that the union declined it. It did so in a way that made it seem like they wanted more money, but that was not the issue of contention in the contract. It's possible something similar is happening in Chicago. My opinion on the Verizon issue is if you have nothing to hide why does it matter if there is a gps tracker on your vehicle. But if the Chicago example you gave was as simple as you explained and that was the case here in Westford, I would have touted the generosity of the contract and encouraged people to seriously consider accepting it. But that is not what was transpired here. "I believe in using the best qualified person for the job,Alex." I agree whole heartedly. Mark the tape here folks.


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