Often times, the strength of a true community is seen not in the good times, but in how that community responds to the difficult times. Unfortunately, in the Amity region over the past few months, we have faced more than our share of adversity with the issue of the environmental safety of two of our schools.

But it's the way the community has responded - parents, teachers, students, administrators, elected officials, and everyone else who has let their voice be heard - that makes me proud. And convinces me that we will get through this time of trial, one and all.

The Amity region of Bethany, Woodbridge, and Orange is a wonderful place to live. Together, the towns have created a school system that has thrived for years and allowed students to get one of the best educations in the state. It has been a model of efficiency, and we cannot say "Thank You" enough to the teachers, administrators, and parents who have made it that way for the children.

Most people are aware of the problems that have befallen Amity High School (in Woodbridge) and Amity Junior High School (in Bethany) over the past several months. Numerous complaints surfaced from parents and teachers that the air quality at Amity High School was making students and faculty sick Similar problems were reported at the junior high school as well. This instantly became the main focus of every local official, and we have all worked tirelessly since these reports came to us to figure out what the problem is and how to fix it.

A source of the problems at the schools is still being examined, and plans are being developed to protect the health of our students and faculty, but it is the way the entire community has rallied together and responded to this crisis that deserves commendation. No finger-pointing, no accusations, no political games. Rather, school officials, local elected officials, and state officials have been very mindful to keep residents apprised of everything that is going on - including a forum held on May 21 that attracted hundreds of people from the three towns. In turn, citizens have reacted admirably - remaining calm despite the troubling situation, presenting their concerns about their children's safety in a very forthright, responsible manner, and being their to assist us every step of the way. That is exemplary.

The answers to this problem are not easy to find, but we are working on them and will not stop until we have them. The next step is BEST - "Better Environment for Students and Teachers" - which is a committee we have formed to monitor the situation, provide support in resolving it, and keep the public apprised. BEST is made up of an array of people from throughout the region - state lawmakers, local elected officials, parents, faculty members, and others - and will remain diligent to this issue until it is resolved. In particular, I am appreciative of the special role that parents are playing as members of BEST. Their input will prove to be invaluable.

I am also pleased with the commitment shown by Michael Lohne, the new chairman of the Amity Regional Board of Education, in working to resolve this issue and in his willingness to work with BEST.

One of the reasons the name BEST is appropriate to this situation is it is exactly what our parents, students, and faculty members deserve - the best. They are worth every effort we can make - nothing is more important than there health and safety.

I am hopeful that we will have this resolved sooner rather than later. My hope springs not from blind optimism, but from the spirit of cooperation and teamwork that has sprung up throughout the community concerning this issue, and the way everyone seems willing to lend a hand to do what is right. That is the true mark of a strong community.

State Senator Joseph J. Crisco Jr. D-Woodbridge represents the 17th Senate District, which includes Bethany and Woodbridge.