December 10, 2015

The Blog I Shouldn't Have to Write

Three years ago this week, we were collectively horrified as we learned of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut.  We continue to be bombarded, almost weekly, sometimes even more frequently, by devastating reports of mass murders. As parents, we try to shield our children from the news. It is unfathomable for me to process and understand this information for myself. It’s impossible to try to make sense of it all for young children.

Parents at our school received a disturbing email from me on Wednesday of this week, after we learned that there had been an armed robbery in the neighborhood close to Friends’. It was a tough crime, and I am grateful that no one got hurt, or worse. Having something like this happen so close to home re-awakens us to the reality that tragedy can strike anywhere at any time.

After talking with the detective from the Boulder Police Department, I was glad to be reassured that the police did not regard the incident as a threat to our school. Yet the fact remained that armed and dangerous men were at large near our school.  I did not hear about the crime until a parent learned about it and wrote to her child’s teacher who immediately passed the information on to me. Initially, all I knew was what the Denver television stations were reporting.

I share this, because it was unpropitious that the BPD did not inform the school immediately – or Eisenhower Elementary, our neighbors to the west. We would have gone into a lockout drill immediately. I am uncertain of the Police Department’s protocol in regards to informing local schools and we are working with them to understand this better.

What I can tell you is that our Friends’ School staff would have known exactly what to do. Our staff underwent a full day of emergency training at the start of the school year and have refresher training monthly and throughout the year.  We continue to update the safety features of our campus. We have recently reviewed and overhauled our entire emergency training manual to reflect the latest research in steps to take in the event of an emergency.  Our training and review were spearheaded by Director of Communications, Meg Hansen, and Associate Head of School, Mandy Stepanovsky.  Both Mandy and Meg underwent intense training last spring to become trainers in the ALICE model of emergency training. 

The purpose of ALICE (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate) training is to prepare our staff to handle the threat of an active shooter. ALICE teaches individuals to participate in their own survival, while leading others to safety. Though no one can guarantee success in this type of situation, this new set of skills has proven to increase greatly the odds of survival should anyone face this form of disaster.

It incenses me that I feel the need to write about this tough topic in my weekly blog. But it is clear: it’s a necessity.

I did not get into teaching because I wanted to consider how to protect the children in my care from a maniac with a gun. None of our teaching staff did.  Yet, it has tragically become our reality.

As a school, as individual educators, we must think about safety every day.

To promote safety wherever we can, we have a strong staff presence in the parking lot and at the doors during all elementary and preschool drop-off and pick-up times.

We do not open the gate to the elementary school playground at pick-up time and it is only open in the mornings with teacher supervision. All entry is through the front door of each building. Friends’ was one of the first in Colorado to install keypad entry systems, in 2006. We change the entry code three times a year. Expect a new code after winter break.

We are constantly thinking about upgrades that are appropriate and necessary to improve the safety of our school, while not unduly compromising the welcoming culture that is essential to our identity. We are planning our second campus with safety, as well as 21st century learning, in mind.

We are a strong community. We always welcome your engagement, feedback and involvement, and we appreciate all you do to make our community thrive.

Thank you for entrusting us with your children.  Hug them extra closely tonight.

And next week, I promise, I will write a lighter piece to launch us into a very happy holiday season.

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