Chesterton Tribune


Discovery Charter practices safety drills to improve school security

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For many parents, safety for their children at school is always a top concern.

Anxieties are now higher as school shooting tragedies around the nation have dominated news headlines recently.

Despite the sudden spike of such occurrences, statistics still show the chance of finding yourself in the middle of a school shooting is extremely low, but the staff and students at Discovery Charter School are learning precautions with local law enforcement agencies, just in case.

“Schools are relatively safe, but that doesn’t mean we don’t want to be prepared,” said Ernesto Martinez, director of Discovery Charter School.

During Wednesday night’s Discovery board of directors meeting, Martinez gave a show and tell of safety instructions the school has had this past week.

Starting on Monday, Nick Kokot of Strategos International LLC and various officers from the Porter County Sheriff’s Police, Porter Police Department, Portage Police Department, Highland Police Department and a Gary Police Detective have guided Discovery students and staff in ways to protect themselves and fight back against an active shooter. Kokot is also an officer with the East Chicago Police Department.

Staff practiced the process of a school lockdown and barricading themselves inside their classrooms as an effective strategy to deter a shooter. While hiding is usually a person’s first instinct, they should always be prepared to fight back. Staff practiced defensive measures, with officers pretending to be the shooter trying to breach classroom doors.

Other drills involved what to do in face-to-face contact with a shooter such as using a fire extinguisher to temporarily blind him or her and throwing objects (using ping-pong balls in drill practice instead of blunt objects).

Students learned skills of what to do in a lockdown such as not exiting the classroom during a fire alarm unless directed by a teacher. Sometimes a shooter will pull the alarm to get people to come outside.

Martinez said the school will practice lockdown drills regularly each month.

Police officers were taught rapid deployment response techniques and how to look for the shooter. Discovery will also allow police departments to continue to train at the school to become more familiar with the layout.

Martinez listed a few items the school board could purchase to enhance safety such as a door guardian plate that acts like a brace to prevent break-ins and shatter-proof film for the windows. The school in the meantime has placed a security camera at the back door in addition to one in front. Martinez added that the school doors are locked at all times during the day.

“I think it’s great that we are being so proactive,” said board president Laurie Metz.

Martinez said Kokot will be present on Saturday for a meeting with Discovery parents at 10 a.m. to give them a chance to ask questions. A second meeting for parents will be on Thursday, Jan. 31 at the school.

Next Wednesday, the staff will meet with East Chicago Police Chief and former F.B.I. agent Mark Becker on how they can train their emotions to work calmly in a lockdown situation.

Admissions lottery applications

In other business, Martinez reminded that the application deadline for the kindergarten admissions lottery is 4 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 20.

The lottery will be on Feb. 27 at 6 p.m. in the school cafeteria before the regular board meeting.

Martinez said siblings of current Discovery students will be guaranteed spots and there have been 21 of those applications so far. All other spots will be put in a clear case and will be drawn at random by an outside party.

Discovery is holding open houses on Jan. 28, 30, and Feb. 5, 8, 12, 14, and 19 during the school day for prospective families. Applications and times are available on the school’s website.

Intent to return forms are being mailed out to families and are due back in two weeks, Martinez said.

AQS Award

Discovery’s management company American Quality Schools honored the school with an outstanding achievement award for the 2011-2012 school year.

For that year, Discovery had the highest student performance compared with the other schools in the AQS pool. The organization headquartered in Chicago manages eight schools in Indiana, two in Chicago, and one in Missouri.

Martinez said Discovery also received an award from the National Park Trust’s Buddy Bison Program.

Also on Wednesday, board member Janine Girzadas announced the Parents Advisory Council’s spring event/fundraiser will be on April 13 at the Uptown Center for Performing Arts in Michigan City from 6 to 10 p.m. with the theme “We’re Branching Out.”

PAC helped raise $4,200 for Discovery in 2012, Girzadas said.



Posted 1/25/2013