By Rebecca Jones

A familiar face to the Seaford School District is back, in a new role. Seaford resident Gary Zoll became the new Director of Student Services for Seaford schools. Zoll taught in Seaford for 15 years and was an assistant principal for three years before he became a principal in the Milford School District. Three years following that transition he came back to Seaford for a new opportunity.  

“I loved my job as a principal and working with students, “said Zoll, “but I was excited to be back in the district where I live, and excited at the opportunity to challenge myself with this opportunity.”

Gary Zoll, Seaford Director of Student Services

The tasks of the new Director of Student Services vary.  Zoll will supervise the transportation division as well as the school counselors. He also will be in charge of the mental health needs and discipline of students. One aspect of the job that will see changes this year is the way the school will handle emergency procedures.

Following a conference with the Delaware Emergency Management Association (DEMA), those in charge of keeping students safe acknowledged that even though things are relatively safe in the Seaford School District, there’s always room for improvement. Part of that improvement requires change. With safety of all students in mind, the Seaford School District is reconstructing the safety and security measures currently in place.

According to Zoll, the school district will increase security cameras in the schools, especially at the elementary school level. Currently, they are getting quotes for the cameras. Following the conference with DEMA, the school district also has rewritten their emergency plans. 

“We are making the language in our emergency plans very clear, very streamlined, so that every teacher in every school – including substitute teachers – know the proper procedure in case of an emergency,” Zoll said. He said if a certain statement is made over the intercom system, then teachers will know to implement a color-coded emergency folder that travels with teachers wherever they go in the school. In that folder are plans relating to different emergencies. 

According to Zoll, no matter what the emergency – from bomb scares and a possible active shooter, to a child threatening suicide, to threats of robbery or in case of an injury to another student, the emergency procedure to help rectify an issue is written in the book. The schools are also implementing a new visitor management system to better screen who is allowed into the schools. 

Also, in an effort to assist the school resource officer and to ensure the safety of students, the Seaford School District is planning to add a new position – school constables. The constables will work in conjunction with the Seaford Police School Resource Officer, as well as the Director of Student Services. 

“It’s going to be a long process,” Zoll said. “We will conduct intensive interviews. The prospective constables will have to go through extreme background checks. If hired, all constables will be required to go through full training. Even after that, they will be required to maintain licensing and updated training. And yes, they will be armed to protect our students.” 

Zoll noted that other local school districts are also going to add armed constables to their school districts. “We can’t think that an event like a school shooting cannot happen here. Our number one priority is to keep our students safe. After the conference with DEMA, we strongly feel this is the best measure to ensure that safety for all who are on our campuses. We don’t want it to happen, but we need to be prepared, because our students are our top priority.”

Part of implementation includes quarterly meetings with a district crisis committee, updating or changing plans based upon what is observed during monthly fire drills and lockdown drills. “If someone on the team sees something that needs tweaked, they can bring it up at the meeting to bring about a better way to do things,” Zoll said. “We also encourage teachers to bring up cares or concerns to a person on the crisis committee.” 

Also, part of keeping all students safe, according to Zoll, is to spot and assist those going through mental issues. He said the school is increasing outside agencies to come work with kids that are dealing with mental issues like anxiety and depression. “We are striving for more of a true understanding of our students’ needs,” said Zoll. “COVID has not helped. We’ve seen an increase in the anxieties and depression of our students.” 

Zoll also acknowledged the importance of keeping parents informed. “We have a blackboard connect app. It sends text messages to parents regarding bus accidents, snow or fog delays. The system is great, because it can cater to individual classroom rosters, bus rosters, specific schools, and up to the entire district. If there was an emergency, we’d use that app, as well as social media in case of an evacuation. We would alert parents where they would need to pick up their kids, just in case,” he said.

According to Zoll, students would be evacuated in cases such as: any natural disaster; a gas leak; Hazmat issues; or an active shooter situation. 

“We take the safety of our students seriously,” he said. “Protecting their safety is as important – if not more so – than their education. We want parents and students to feel comfortable coming to our buildings. We believe that academics will be enhanced the safer parents and students feel. We understand the concern parents may feel about the addition of constables; we just want the parents to have confidence that the measures we are taking are to ensure the students’ safety above all.”