Bhavna Sharma-Lewis, the new superintendent of Riverside Elementary School District 96, had a get-to-know-you lunch with Riverside Village Manager Peter Scalera and Riverside Police Chief Thomas Weitzel last week.
They discussed what a joint press release called “a new cooperative spirit to open lines of communication between the village staff and District 96 staff.”
“Riverside Police Chief Thomas Weitzel and Manager Scalera welcomed me, and I am looking forward to a continued partnership in which the police and the school staff will advocate for the children of District 96, yet insure, to the extent possible, their safety and security at all times,” said Sharma-Lewis in the press release.
Weitzel said that the three had a good, productive conversation at a Forest Park restaurant.
“I was impressed by the superintendent,” Weitzel told the Landmark. “She’s very enthusiastic.”
Weitzel said that he and Sharma-Lewis exchanged cellphone numbers.
“To be in 24-hour contact with her does make me feel better,” Weitzel said, adding that he now can be contacted immediately about any emergencies seven days a week. “We wanted better communication at our level.”
Weitzel said that he did not have the cell phone number of former District 96 Superintendent Jonathan Lamberson, adding that he and Lamberson communicated mostly by email.
Last year relations between top District 96 administrators and the Riverside police department were strained at times — fallout from an investigation into allegations that were brought to the police by former Ames School Principal Colleen Lieggi in 2011.
Top district officials were not happy that the Riverside Police Department released the police report detailing their investigation into the charges. Last fall three lawyers representing District 96 met with top village and police officials, including Scalera and Weitzel to discuss how this happened.
Weitzel and Scalera, along with Riverside Lt. David Krull and Riverside Village Attorney Lance Malina, are currently defendants in a federal lawsuit brought by Lieggi on behalf of her children. The suit alleges that the officials violated her children’s right to privacy by releasing the police report.
However, on a day-to-day basis that controversy didn’t affect police and school cooperation last year, Weitzel said.
“I think I still had a good relationship [with Lamberson and District 96] because I acted professionally at all times,” Weitzel said. “If I needed to address an issue with the superintendent at that time, Jon Lamberson, I did. We still had open communication, we still emailed. There wasn’t a lot we needed to discuss last year as far as just day-to-day operations or any major incidents.”
During their lunch Sharma-Lewis, Weitzel, and Scalera discussed working together on improved security and safety initiatives including training, physical security and an increase police presence in and around the schools.
“We just want to be more of a partner with them on security,” said Weitzel mentioning a new state law about intruder drills.
Last school year the Riverside Police Department began a policy of having its officers in patrol cars go the school parking lots to fill out reports, which can be remotely filed, on the computers in their squad cars in an attempt to beef up the police presence around schools in the wake of the mass shooting in 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., which killed 20 students and six adults.
Sgt. Leo Kotor will be the main police liaison with all the schools in Riverside, Weitzel said. Sharma-Lewis said Hauser Junior High Assistant Principal Stacy Westin will act as the district’s liaison with the police.
Scalera was also happy with the results of the meeting.
“As village manager, I will ensure that the village will be an equal partner in ongoing discussions on improved security, safety and open communication with Superintendent Sharma-Lewis’s office and her staff,” Scalera stated in the press release.
Weitzel also helped to arrange for Sharma-Lewis to meet with North Riverside Police Chief Lane Neimann and Brookfield Police Chief Steven Stelter. Some students from North Riverside also attend school in Riverside. In addition, Hollywood School, which is part of the Riverside school district, is located in Brookfield.
Sharma-Lewis said on Monday that she would meet with Neimann and Stelter on Aug, 28.