Austintown schools have become much safer over the past few months, mainly because of a joint effort between the district and the Austintown Police Department.
"The relationship between the schools and the township has been a very good one," said Austintown Superintendent Vince Colaluca.
He said Fitch has for years had a full-time officer at the entrance and a second officer who came in during lunch periods. The township also gave the schools a vehicle for the school officer to use.
Photo by J.T. Whitehouse, Town Crier
AMS Assistant Principal Dave Mullane, AMS principal Chris Berni, and AMS Assistant Principal Jim Penk are joined by Austintown juvenile detective Sgt. Kathy Dina, who has proven to be a great asset in school security since she began working out of a school office in August.
At the elementary levels, Jeff Toth has established a good relationship with the students through the D.A.R.E. program. His constant visits to the elementary schools and Austintown Middle School have shown students that police are there to help and to listen.
Colaluca said, in 2008, the schools wrote a grant for $60,000 to place buzzers and locked doors at all the schools for security. He said Austintown police Chief Bob Gavalier was instrumental in them receiving that grant.
The district took the next step this school year by forming a new partnership. On Aug. 21, juvenile detective Sgt. Kathy Dina began working out of her new office at AMS. Since that time, the school's security has been enhanced and troubled students have seen a proactive intervention.
"We found that by having Dina at AMS, she had an ear to the ground," Gavalier said. "She has rapport with the kids and they are letting her know things that are going on that we didn't have access to before."
Dina said the key to her working out of AMS is to be proactive. She said it has already been proven that when a student decides to be unruly, they start in school and after school, they head home and get into trouble. It was always after the trouble that the police began dealing with the child.
Now, with the juvenile office at AMS, the unruly student can be recognized early and have a chance to consider other options for his or her life.
"With Dina working as a team with us, we can head off problem students and turn them around so they can avoid long term consequences for their actions," said AMS Assistant Principal Dave Mullane.
Dina said she has already seen the proactive approach help not only students, but families as well.
"Many families were unaware the police can get them help," Dina said. "They thought if the police were called they would just make an arrest. We want to identify the problem and get them help, not send them to jail."
Another big plus is the fact Dina is walking through the school and has already found some security problems that school officials have corrected.
"By seeing the day-to-day activity, she is able to give the school officials tips on security issues," Gavalier said. "It's a real win-win situation."
The final big plus is the fact Dina adds another in-school officer, making for a safer environment for the students.
Prior to the holiday break, Austintown schools had no problems at all. Colaluca said there was one tweet asking if there was a bomb threat at the high school. It came from a parent who was immediately contacted and the issue was put to rest.
Colaluca said every five years the district is required to send in safety plans to the Ohio attorney general. This year's plan will show the partnership between the schools and police and how beneficial it has been.
"We are always looking at what else we can do to improve security," Colaluca said.
Dina said the office at AMS has worked out well, but she still does some work out of her office at the police station as well.