NEW SCOTLAND — As a continuation of Voorheesville Central School District’s on-going commitment to protecting all students, faculty and staff, a safety audit was recently conducted by members of the Albany County Sheriff’s Office.
The audit was entirely voluntary, and the results are not required to be filed with any state agency. The sheriff’s office expects to present the results to Superintendent Frank Macri in the coming weeks. School leadership will then analyze the results and use them to re-enforce current safety procedures, evaluate existing security infrastructure and plan for future needs.
“The district is thankful to the Albany County Sheriff’s Office for once again conducting a safety vulnerability audit of our buildings,” Macri said. “These types of audits allow us to identify areas of strength and potential growth while continually increasing the safety of our staff and student population.”
The safety audit also serves to strengthen the relationship between the district and the sheriff’s office. Commander Brain Wood noted the importance of having deputies become familiar with the layout of the schools. This will help response time should they ever be called in for an emergency. Whether it’s responding to a child with an urgent health issue or a district-wide lock-down, he said his team will be prepared.
The first audit was conducted in 2020, and Wood said he observed incredible progress in many safety areas during this most recent walkthrough.
“We enter the buildings with the mindset of a ‘bad guy,’ with the mindset of a paramedic or with the mindset of a cop, just to see where there are opportunities that we could make a change that may prevent an injury, prevent an accident, prevent a crime. We basically break into the school. From 2020 to 2023, there was a drastic improvement in the number of places that we couldn’t get into,” Wood said.
The unannounced audit began on a Sunday when Wood and other members of the sheriff’s office entered Voorheesville’s school buildings during sporting events. This gave them the opportunity to observe safety systems outside of normal school hours. While they were there, they set the stage to test the school community’s situational awareness. For example, notes were left on buses stating, “This is a drill.”
Bus drivers were instructed to call the sheriff’s office to report their discovery. Each and every driver encountered the notes and reported on them as they performed their systems checks on Monday morning.
Before they exited the elementary school building on Sunday, deputies left an unattended backpack in the school. Early Monday morning, a student alerted a teacher about the aberrant backpack, and the teacher brought it to the attention of the main office. The safety audit team said this kind of situational awareness is critical to any school district’s safety plan.
Wood, who arrived for the audit wearing street clothes, said he was pleased to report that he was “challenged” by a teacher, a substitute teacher and a student. Each noticed a stranger was in the building and asked for identification or alerted school personnel, he said.
Investigator Nathanial Bray said improvements at VCSD are “night and day” changes.
“There has been so much infrastructure overhaul. We also see policy improvements, and we see changes in the culture of the school. Voorheesville is definitely succeeding in efforts to improve safety,” Bray said.
The safety audit included opportunities for staff to ask questions and get reminders of safety procedures. As the discussion evolved, the group brainstormed about ways to make VCSD even safer.