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Falls school superintendent prioritizing safety heading into new school year | #schoolsaftey


Sep. 5—Niagara Falls School District Superintendent Mark Laurrie has a lot on his mind heading into the start of another school year, his 40th as a district employee.

As students head back to school later this week, Laurrie said he wants parents to know that the school district has invested a lot of resources in efforts to keep them safe when they are in the classroom.

“Without having safety in place, nothing else really matters,” he said. “Without allaying that fear in parents, nothing else really matters.”

Laurrie’s comments came during an extended interview last week with a reporter and members of the editorial board from the Niagara Gazette and Lockport Union-Sun & Journal newspapers.

While acknowledging there’s no such thing as a “full-proof” plan when it comes to school safety, Laurrie said he believes the district has made a lot of progress on the school safety front.

While the district does not use facial recognition technology, it does have a weapons detection system at school buildings.

In addition, all visitors to school buildings are required to present a driver’s licenses or an acceptable form of identification before they are allowed entry. The process allows district employees to check visitors’ backgrounds for criminal warrants, sex offender status and other red flags.

Laurrie said school buildings in the Falls are also undergoing physical improvements to make sure vestibules are more secure by requiring a “double-check in” system that creates essentially a “double door” entry requiring a school employee to buzz visitors into a small lobby before they are allowed access to a school.

The superintendent said the district has also applied for approval from the New York State Education Department to add a product that will bullet proof all glass and windows on the first floor of every school building districtwide.

“We have continually added safety measures that I think rival any place around the country,” Laurrie said.

The schools, I think, are looking really good,” he added. “You want to know the school is good and clean and that they are getting a good rating on their success.”

Laurrie acknowledged that even with all of the safety upgrades, there are times when “difficult situations” involving students happen inside Falls schools. He said it is, in part, a sign of changing times, but also an issue district officials take very seriously and work to address as part of the district’s long-term planning and daily business.

To those who would suggest, often in online forums, that the Falls district is unsafe, Laurrie said he welcomes students, parents and others to pay a visit to a school building to better understand what he said is the reality of day-to-day learning across district schools.

“Do we have fights? Yeah, we have fights,” Laurrie said. “I think every school does. Do I like it? No. But these are good safe places. I can’t fight that perception because it’s out there.”

During his hour-long interview with representatives from the newspapers Laurrie discussed some good news and some potentially not-so-good news facing the district, including:

Graduation rates

As previously reported in the Gazette, Laurrie said the district’s current graduation rate, as released by the state education department, came in at 85.5%, a marked improvement from 2019 when 67% of district students qualified for graduation.

“I consider this a very big achievement,” he said.

Financial standing

Laurrie said the district has contracts in place with all of its unions and currently has fully funded reserves up to the 4% percent maximum allowed. Laurrie said he’s hopeful Standard & Poor’s, a financial services company that assesses the soundness of municipalities and school districts, may increase the district’s current bond rating, which is now “A” grade, to “A+.” Bond ratings help investors determine credit worthiness. Higher bond ratings often result in lower interest rates for public entities like the school district that seek to borrow funds for capital projects.

Staffing

Laurrie said the district is entering the school year nearly full staffed, with the exception of a school psychologist and a science teacher. He said due to need and high demand for the position, the district was forced to call back to duty two Spanish teachers who previously retired.

“It’s nearly impossible to find a second-language teacher in New York state,” he said.

His tenure as district superintendent

Laurrie, 64, has been leading the Falls school district as superintendent for 11 years. He said he has three more years remaining on his contract, which he intends to fulfill.

“I’m going to give it everything I’ve got in my remaining three years,” he said.



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