School Board meeting to discuss latest updates

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) — In the wake of the Jan. 6 shooting at Richneck Elementary in Newport News that injured first-grade teacher Abby Zwerner, everything is about safety.

Many continue to have concerns about school safety and how a six-year-old was able to shoot his teacher.

“The topic today is working on Richneck and making sure we can support families and teachers and make sure that school community can become whole again,” said Newport News Superintendent Dr. George Parker III.

Dr. Terri Best, vice chairwoman of the Newport News School Board, said she hopes the public takes the time to express their concerns and speak their peace.

“I hope they will be given an opportunity to express those concerns,” Best said.

On Tuesday, Parker issued a four-page school safety update, outlining what has been done to improve safety in Newport News Public Schools over the past two years.

Parker also outlined four initiatives to improve safety since the shooting at Richneck.

  • Expand daily use of metal detectors (the school division ordered 90 new detectors)
  • Division-wide safety stand-down to allow teachers, administrators to discuss building safety
  • School-level meetings to address staff concerns about safety, with reasonable solutions and support services
  • Behavior training, with best practices taught by experts and veteran educators.

“You have to have people come together to find reasonable solutions, and when they can’t find solutions, that’s where you provide the necessary support and resources, training, additional support to make sure they have everything they need to be successful.”

School Board meeting to address latest updates on Richneck

The Newport News School Board met Tuesday evening to discuss the latest updates on Richneck as the school remains closed following the shooting earlier this month.

Nearly two weeks ago, police say a 6-year old student shot Newport News first-grade teacher Abby Zwerner. The school has not been open since the shooting.

Zwerner’s twin sister set up a GoFundMe account to help with her recovery. Zwerner has now been hailed as a hero by Newport News police after officials say she made sure her students were out of the classroom even after suffering a gunshot wound.

View WAVY’s full coverage of the shooting at Richneck Elementary here.

On Tuesday, Parker promised communication and transparency following the shooting.

“While my immediate focus will remain with Ms. Zwerner, the staff and the families of Richneck Elementary students,” Parker said, “I want all staff to be well informed not only on our efforts to keep you safe, but also how you can assist with safety efforts at your schools.”

Parker said they have listened to teachers and staff regarding the challenges of student behavior.

“We listened and we continue to work to improve current systems and processes to help better manage extreme behaviors that adversely affect the culture and climate in schools,” Parker said.

During a recent survey, which generated more than 1,100 responses from the Newport News Public Schools community, 60% of respondents said that building administrators address negative student behaviors, while 69% believed that school administrators work to maintain a safe learning environment.

Based on the responses from the survey, Parker said they have implemented several changes to address school safety including:

  • Increase in school resource officer coverage, and the number of security officers at high schools has been increased to six.
  • Increased random searches to a minimum of 3 random buses and a minimum of 5 random classrooms per week in middle and high schools 
  • Civilian Response to Active Shooter Events, or CRASE, training was scheduled at the beginning of the school year for all NNPS schools
  • Having additional licensed mental health professionals
  • Hiring six behavior coaches assist teachers in the classroom to address unwanted student behaviors and develop classroom plans to improve student behavior
  • Implementing new procedures such as a required Student Behavior Contract on the first incident of an act of physical aggression
  • See the full list of changes here.

In addition to the changes, Parker said that they are also considering new actions to address student behavior including:

  • Expanding the daily use of metal detection
  • Scheduling division-wide school safety stand down to allow for teachers and school administrators to collaborate and discuss building safety 
  • Additional opportunities for behavioral training

Community members hoping to give feedback can provide their input here.

Those seeking additional assistance or support can also call the helpline at (757) 788-0635 or can contact Parker directly at askthesupt@nn.k12.va.us.

Check WAVY.com for the latest updates.