District officials want to get more communities involved in School Watch programs.
Three schools were initially chosen to pilot the vandalism and crime prevention initiatives this year – McGirr and Pleasant Valley elementary schools and John Barsby Secondary School – but no neighbours attended the startup meetings for John Barsby and McGirr, so programs at those schools have been abandoned for the time being.
“Part of the program is involving the neighbours,” said Pete Sabo, district director of planning and facilities.
Later in the year, two schools experiencing some significant vandalism – Woodbank Primary School and Cinnabar Valley Elementary School – asked for school district and police help in starting up School Watch programs.
The programs continue at all three schools and principals remain in regular communication with residents.
Sabo said vandalism costs have been reduced at all three schools – to zero dollars some months at all three – and while it’s too early to tell if this is due to School Watch, he believes the program likely at least contributed to the lower numbers.
Kathy Bergman, principal at Pleasant Valley, said the program is having a positive effect at her school and she believes it has contributed to reducing vandalism.
“We’ve had some issues reported to us like graffiti and people on the roof,” she said. “Pleasant Valley isn’t a high vandalism area, but schools are targets – they sit empty from 6 p.m. on. I think having those people feel more connected, they’re more likely to come over or say something.”
Bergman was afraid at first that she would be inundated with phone calls and e-mails from residents, but the program clearly explains when to call police, the school board or the principal.
And the level of calls and e-mails Bergman’s received have been manageable.
Bergman said the group involved with the program has had discussions about other issues such as crosswalk placement and neighbours notified the school when a streetlight near the school had burned out.
Jamie Brennan, school board chairman and a member of the anti-vandalism committee, said the committee will discuss ways to get more buy-in from neighbourhoods so more programs can be put in place.
“The whole idea of the Schools Watch is that the neighbourhood is aware,” he said. “There’s no question of its value, we have to reconsider how we engage people, how we attract them to participate.”