Austintown school makes changes

AUSTINTOWN – Third- and fourth-graders returning to Frank Ohl Intermediate from Christmas break were surprised with a change: The principal’s office was moved.

Even though they will be in a new building soon, the change was something the district believed was necessary to strengthen safety protocols, especially in light of the recent shootings in Connecticut, fourth-grade principal Jeffrey Swavel said.

Twenty children and six adults were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14 by a gunman who walked into the school unimpeded. The gunman, Adam Lanza, killed himself and his mother.

The former office at Frank Ohl was down the hall from the entrance where the buzzers and video surveillance are located. After visitors were buzzed in, they were supposed to sign in at the office, but there was a chance they could slip past the office unnoticed, he said.

Not with the new setup.

You can’t go past that point any more now that the front desk is adjacent to the entrance, and there’s always somebody watching, Swavel said.

One of the things that spurred the change was the intervention tutoring for students. Desks were set beside a stairwell by an entrance that is no longer being used, which wasn’t as secure as a classroom and also posed problems in case of an evacuation, Swavel said.

Three former teacher lounges have been converted, and now the children tutor in one of those rooms, with the former principal’s office being used as a lounge.

Swavel said the changes made sense, and the school is now even safer.

“It was a simple solution that didn’t cost us any money, and it made a great impact,” he said. “We just kind of reinforced what we already have in place.”

Swavel also said the change has been well-received by the parents.

“They told me they feel safer now … more comfortable,” he said.

One parent, Jeff Mickey, who was picking up his daughter from school on Friday afternoon, said the office’s new location is safer as well as more convenient.

With the prior setup, once people got inside they could walk past the office without signing in, but now they can’t and here, they can see who’s at the door, he said.

The new buildings, for which construction began last year, will be completed by fall. The four K-3 schools will be combined into one building, and third-graders will join fourth- and fifth-graders in the new middle school in September.

“Every kid in Austintown will be right here in one campus,” Swavel said.