School safety is a very important topic. It’s in the public eye currently but it is something that we always take seriously in Worthington. Often times our approach is behind the scenes and thus the average person isn’t aware of our work.
Yesterday morning our Worthington Schools Safety and Security team met to review school safety in Worthington and to begin a process of making recommendations for future safety enhancements. Our Safety and Security team is made up of district office administrators, building principals, a teacher, an administrative assistant, a parent and a community member. The team will meet regularly this winter and spring.
At our Monday evening board of education meeting (1.28.13) Jeff Maddox our Director of Innovation and School Support will make a presentation to the Board of Education on school safety in Worthington (Jeff’s presentation should be posted on the Worthington Schools website later this afternoon if you would like to preview it). In that presentation Jeff will share that we view school safety from a three-pronged approach.
1. District and School Safety Plans
2. Student Mental Health
3. Safe and Secure Facilities
Each of these three areas plays an important role in keeping students and staff members safe in Worthington.
District and School Safety Plans
In Worthington we have an overall district crisis manual that guides employee response and reaction in every conceivable situation. Active shooter is one such situation, but fire, tornado, chemical spill, etc… would be covered by these plans. From there, each school facility has their own school safety plans and a crisis response team that meets regularly to revise plans, train staff members, and proactively work on school safety. All of our school maps are digitized and all of our school safety plans are digitized. Local law enforcement agencies have copies of these plans should they need them as first responders. Finally, we utilize a safe schools hotline to allow for students, staff members, or community members, to anonymously provide tips if they believe a situation may occur. Our safety plans are active documents, and they are extremely comprehensive.
Student Mental Health
A critical component of safety is emotional safety for all students. In Worthington we are proactively working to create positive school cultures and climates. Last spring we administered culture/climate surveys at each school in the district and made improvement in school culture the number one goal in every school improvement plan. We also invested in a safe and drug free schools coordinator who is charged with implementing a K-12 aligned anti-bullying program across the school district (One Leg at A Time). Furthermore staff members are trained in identifying students who are high risk and we have a process to assess threat potential. Worthington school counselors provide a first line of service to our students and families. The second line is a significant partnership with North Community Counseling who provides therapeutic counseling to our families who need it. The mental health of our students is critical in creating a safe environment
Safe and Secure Facilities
In Worthington we make certain that all exterior doors are locked and that only the front door is open to visitors. All staff and parent volunteers wear ID badges that identify them and all visitors are asked to sign-in at the office. District custodians do periodic building security sweeps and present the results to the school principal and to the Director of Facilities. Our buildings were built before school safety was a major concern and thus our layouts are somewhat challenging to manage. Dr. Tucker, Mr. Maddox and I have met with two private security firms to have them do an assessment of our facilities and provide recommendations for future improvements. These recommendations will be reviewed by the district safety and security committee for future actions.
Publicly there is a great deal of debate around providing safety officers (SRO’s) in our schools. We currently have no SRO’s in Worthington. We do have a police officer assigned by the Worthington PD to spend a part of most day shifts at Thomas Worthington High School. I read in the newspaper about some school districts arming staff members. Others have used parent volunteers to safe guard entrances. There are many different options.
In Worthington we believe that keeping our students safe is around making enhancements in each of our three main areas. We need to deepen our staff training in implementing our safety plans, we need to redouble our efforts, and potentially our resources, in providing mental health services to students and we need to have a community conversation about what we want for our school facilities. All three areas have significant importance and all three areas need a critical eye.
We will continue to wrestle with this topic. It’s important that we hear from our parents about what they want for their schools and their community.