Lockwood Parents and Community:
In the wake of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, CT there have been several inquiries about safety here at Lockwood Schools. I wanted to take the weekend to think and reflect on the tragedy in Connecticut, before making any “public” statements. First, I wanted to have a better idea of what happened there at Sandy Hook Elementary and secondly, as a father with three students in the school; I wanted to let my own emotions subside.
First and foremost, I think I speak for all of our staff and trustees in saying that our hearts are broken and our thoughts are with the families and their community as they deal with this unimaginable tragedy and loss. Losing so many young lives creates a sadness that I don・t believe anyone should ever have to face. In terms of what happened specifically in Connecticut, I am not sure if there is anything that the school could have done to prevent this situation. I have played the situation through in my head numerous times and discussed it with people that have backgrounds in the field of safety. Based on the released information, I am not sure that even armed guards would have prevented this tragedy. In my opinion, the staff at Sandy Hook did an admirable job of handling a situation that no one could have been prepared for. They followed protocol to get the students out of harm’s way as best they could, supported the students through the incident, and tried to reduce the children・s exposure to the trauma as much as possible. Principal Dawn Hochsprung, who ran towards the sound of gunfire to try and protect her students before losing her own life, should be remembered as a true hero. I hope that none of the blame for this tragedy comes back onto the school・s staff. They have been through enough already and will live with emotional scars and the “what if’s” of that morning for the rest of their lives. The main reason I say that this was a situation that was unforeseeable is the paradigm shift happening recently with these type of tragedies. In this case, as in Littleton and Portland, there was no real connection to where the violence happened. It just seems like the victims are completely random and that the shooters are looking to harm as many people as possible. This is no longer a case of an angry student or disgruntled parent where relationships can be built and warning signs watched for; this is someone looking to cause as much harm as possible to anyone that they can, no matter how young or innocent in this case.
Specifically to Lockwood, school safety is one of our key priorities and something we are continually working on. Our board of trustees, working with staff and administration just recently adopted a new Mission Statement for the school district. The second line of this document reads “We will strive to achieve a safe, secure, and positive learning environment…”. This shows that we all believe safety is a priority that we focus on, but our commitment goes much deeper than just words on the wall.
My own teaching background includes a B.S. in Health Education. One of the things that stems from this background is a focus on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. First, we must have our basic physical needs (food, water, heat, rest, etc.) met. The second half of these ・Basic Needs・ is safety and security. All these needs must be met if we expect any kind of growth or learning from our students. We must have safe and secure children in order to function as a school and these children must feel safe in our care. Of course this “feeling safe” is a challenge at a time like this as I’m not sure anyone in our nation feels safe right now.
Here at Lockwood Schools we have unique challenges in terms of school safety due to the large number of students we serve and the physical size of our campus. Few schools in our state educate as many students as we do on one campus and most of those that do are high schools that have a different set of challenges. We are constantly working on making the school safe and in light of this tragedy we will again readdress our emergency preparation. I have spoken to the Yellowstone County Sheriff’s Department and they are going to increase their work with schools to better coordinate with us as we move forward.
I want to highlight some of the things that we have done as a district to address student safety that not all parents might be aware of. Many of the things I will discuss have taken place in the six months since I have joined the district, I don’t want this to be interpreted that these practices were not going on before, many of them were; I just feel more comfortable discussing the things that I have a first hand knowledge of.
We have established protocol on how to handle a variety of situations ranging from fire alarms to intruders. These are regularly practiced and evaluated for unforeseen problems and efficiency. Again, as I stated above it sounds like we are going to be able to involve our local law enforcement more in this process, which is a good thing. Another part of why we practice situations is so that the students get used to the procedure and do not panic if there is ever a real reason for an evacuation or other protocol. We want things to remain as routine as possible for the children, this makes them feel safe as it is a part of their regular day-‐to-‐day activities. Schools in Montana are required to have eight drills per year. We schedule these throughout the year and focus on different situations: fire, intruder, tornado, etc. Some parents have mentioned children discussing an ・intruder・; this is an example of a drill that we have practiced with a stand-‐in ・intruder・; we have actually had two intruder drills already this school year and have another planned for May. If there were an actual intruder, parents would be notified as to how the situation was handled. Lockwood has a computerized notification system that fortunately I haven’t had to use yet, but I understand was utilized last year when there was a gas leak in the neighborhood. This allows us to communicate with a large number of parents and guardians in a minimal amount of time. Lockwood Schools also have several different levels of alerts and/or lockdowns. We have used these at different times when we feel we need to up our level of vigilance. We are at an elevated level this week due to last week’s events, but your child should not notice any significant changes to their day. Again, we want kids to feel safe and able to focus on their learning and just enjoy “being a kid”.
At the end of October we had Bill Bond, who is the National Association of Secondary School Principals’ School Safety Expert on campus for a day and a half. Mr. Bond is the former principal of a high school in Paducah, KY were one of the first school shootings in America happened. Bill met with our staff for a half of a professional development day, focusing on how important relationships and getting to know our students is to prevent a possible situation like what happened in Paducah. He also was available that evening for parents and community members to listen to and talk with. Finally, he met with our Middle School students the following day to share his story and discuss how they can help a friend in need that is thinking about violence or suicide. Mr. Bond is a powerful speaker and is very frank and open about his own experience. We plan on bringing him back to Lockwood every three years so that all of our students get to hear him speak at least once while they are in Middle School. Naturally, Bill’s focus is more on preventing this type of situation with your own students, not dealing with the changing paradigm of seemingly random violence that we saw in Newtown.
Around that same time we had Special Agent Richard Smith from the Department of Justice give a presentation to our K-‐5 staff. The focus of this workshop was student safety measures with an emphasis on preventing child abduction in light of the situation in Cody, WY. We have made several changes to our protocol based on what we learned from Agent Smith and his evaluation of our school and practices. This includes a renewed emphasis on staff/visitor identification badges and taking student roll several times each day.
All doors except the main entrances and a couple of handicap accessible entrances are to be locked at all times and we try to monitor this as best we can. Right now we know that this system is not perfect, there is too much chance for human error. In addition to heightened vigilance, we are looking at the possibility of going to a keyless system so that a staff member or visitor would have to be assigned a key card to open any doors other than those accessing the main office in each building. This would mean that a staff member or visitor could not leave these doors unlocked by mistake. Again this is a challenge due to the size of our campus and the number of buildings and entrances we have. We must also plan for the safety of a student that may get locked out of the building and the need to evacuate a playground area if necessary. I will tell you that in light of Newtown, this project has moved up my priority list to get done sooner rather than later. However, keep in mind that this practice did not help in their situation. My understanding is that you had to be “buzzed in” to their school and that the gunman shot the doors open.
Finally, we have counseling available for any students that are traumatized by the events in Connecticut or just have questions on how to move forward.
I hope this isn’t overwhelming but I wanted to share everything we are doing to try and keep your children safe. In light of what happened last week we are naturally going to focus on this area more over the next few months, but it truly is day to day vigilance that will make the most difference. This is key part of my job and that of the principals; we need to continue to provide our staff with the best training and support to keep all of our children safe. We are always open for input on how we can better serve you as parents and a community; after all we work for you and your children. Please feel free to contact me with any suggestions or concerns that you might have.
Superintendent Lockwood Schools