A lockdown at a Norwalk elementary school is prompting school administrators to focus on emergency procedures and develop a new way to reach out to parents.
The lockdown at Cranbury Elementary School followed a teacher's report of possible gunshots.
Norwalk Police found no evidence of gunfire, but, as word spread through police transmissions, social media and cellphones from people who were involved, many parents rushed to the school, only to be held off by a massive police presence.
Some people criticized city leaders for what they saw as a lack of communication.
"Fortunately, there was not a real emergency, so to speak, that took place at Cranbury, but it was a very good eye-opener for us as far as our own procedures internally," he said. "It caused us to look at everything from communications, what kind of communications should go out, how and when.
"We've begun working on a very explicit internal protocol that we will be following."
Norwalk schools had already been working on school safety improvements in the wake of last December's tragedy in Newtown. While the focus has been on the schools themselves, Rivera said school administrators need to develop a system so they will not find themselves "fumbling around with what the wording ought to be on a message that we want to send out right away."
That means developing messages that can be customized and sent out immediately.
"We can keep people abreast using our software system, which really is a pretty good one in the sense that it can be customized to send messages out via text, email or phone, depending on the preference of the parents," Rivera said.
Rivera also said that physical improvements to the schools are in store as part of the safety study that has been underway. The Norwalk Police Department has assessed 10 of the 19 schools to identify needs, he said.
"That is information that will feed into our capital improvement process as we look at capital improvements as needed," he said. "There is also, however, some funding that has been budgeted for this year. We are moving forward with a number of capital improvements. For example, one school needs blinds, we are moving forward to get that done."
Locks are also being replaced, he said. Board member Heidi Keyes asked what the time frame for replacing locks might be at Cranbury. Rivera said the locks had been ordered and would probably be installed within a week or two.
Rivera said he also has the strategic planning process for upcoming budgets on his mind. That was also a topic in a letter he sent the board last week.
When Rivera joined the board for an evening during its recent retreat, he found that he and the board members are, essentially, on the same page -- or, at the very least, in the same chapter.
"There are a number of board priorities and initiatives that had begun well before my arrival that are consistent with several key `change levers' that I have drafted and that I believe are consistent with direction endorsed by the board, and many staff and community leaders that I have spoken with," Rivera said in a report sent to board members. "We are not `starting from scratch' and I do not believe that we need a four- to six-month planning process, when staff and our community are ready to advance changes now."
Rivera went on to list his draft priorities and "change levers" for the BOE's approval, a list that includes improvements in culture and accountability, building a "state-of-the-art" instructional system and building new partnerships that "promote student learning 24/7."
He also acknowledged other "critically important tasks" just ahead:
Preparing a recommended 2013-14 budget
Maintain a watchful "eye" on the progress at Briggs
Redistricting and related opportunities
Technology infrastructure and hardware requirements and staff readiness: "We need to decide soon about whether or not to submit our waiver request to the state to administer SBAC in lieu of CMT." SBAC is the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium; CMT is the Connecticut Mastery Test for grades 3-8.