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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.

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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