Published: Mar 02, 2013 07:00 PM
Modified: Mar 01, 2013 12:17 PM
While learning is the undisputed priority in school districts nationwide, there is one – and only one – aspect of education that trumps even learning: the safety of our students.
Since the horrific events of Dec. 14 in Newtown, Conn., the topic of school safety has surfaced as the No. 1 conversation in education circles, and even more so in many community forums.
Every education journal and publication I have read in recent months has featured stories about the ongoing efforts to protect our children. As an educational community we are always interested in learning from colleagues around the country, especially when it comes to this very important matter.
I want to assure our community that we have not and will not table this dialogue in the hopes of it fading to the back page. Instead, we are taking a proactive approach to ensure that our students and staff can learn in a secure environment.
To that end, the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools administration has initiated a number of in-depth conversations, planning sessions, investigations, and, ultimately, improvements to our current safety plans, procedures and facilities. Here are some steps we have taken:
All electronic security and video systems have been reviewed by our security contractor. Specific improvements have been made at Seawell Elementary, Frank Porter Graham Elementary, Rashkis Elementary and Phillips Middle.
Our Safe Schools Committee met immediately after the Newtown incident. The discussion included categories of concern with the intention of identifying district-wide safety needs.
A meeting was held with the chiefs of police from both Carrboro and Chapel Hill. Roger Stancil, the Chapel Hill town manager, also attended. A number of issues were discussed including:
• the need for improved communication between schools and police departments
• a review of our safety procedures by the police department
• a need to meet again regarding mutual items of interest
• the school resource officers and their participation in school professional development
The Superintendent’s Safety Council is being established and will include the chiefs of police, school resource officers and school personnel. The council will meet regularly to examine community concerns regarding safety in schools, to review and update procedures as needed, and to discuss best practices in safety and security.
CHCCS is now talking to independent consultants in an effort to review and recommend steps toward improving security in the district.
The Mental Health Team, which includes nurses, assistant principals, social workers, and counselors, is re-examining and refining practices with the goal of intervention and incident prevention.
Staff is investigating the creation of a Threat Risk Assessment Team. The concept of threat risk assessment formalized training is being analyzed.
We believe our schools are safe, and have been for many years. However, we will not rest on our current protocols. Our team is busy seeking improvements. While we recognize there is no such thing as a fool-proof safety plan, we expect the current national conversation to result in more effective strategies for protecting our children and staff members.
We also know that notable school tragedies such as those that occurred in Connecticut, Colorado, Arkansas, Pennsylvania and other places typically have warning signs. The best safety measure is to address those indicators and provide the needed help prior to escalation.
I have often said the schools are the hub of our community – and we need our entire community to help us keep them safe. To that end, we have set up an online submission form to gather suggestions and recommendations that can be brought to the new Superintendent’s Safety Council. To submit your safety recommendations, please visit safety.chccs.k12.nc.us
Finally, the safety of our children and staff continues to be our top priority and I thank you for your patience and support.Tom Forcella is the superintendent of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools.
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