Now that the school year has come to an end, I hope this letter finds you looking forward to a relaxing summer with your family and friends. As you may recall from my February communication, WCPS assembled a Regional Safety Task Force committee to advise us (and surrounding school districts) about additional safety measures for each school district to consider. The committee included members from local law enforcement, emergency management, Kentucky Center for School Safety, and Fiscal Court. After meetings in April and May, the Regional Safety Task Force sent a comprehensive list of safety considerations to school districts on May 17. The list, which can be viewed in its entirety here, is intended to be a thorough compilation of suggestions for consideration by school districts throughout the Green River Regional Educational Cooperative.
Before providing an update on our “next steps”, I want to share a brief history and a few highlights of our most recent safety enhancements. In 1999, WCPS partnered with the Bowling Green Police Department and the Warren County Sheriff’s Office by placing School Resource Officers (SRO) in our schools. This program has continued to grow and each of the district’s four high schools has a full-time SRO and a fifth SRO was hired in 2017 to serve the students of Lighthouse Academy, Jackson Academy, and the WCPS Day Treatment Center. WCPS added a retired law enforcement official, Jay Wilson, as a full-time Safety Director in 2013 to oversee safety efforts across the district. From monitoring emergency drills to conducting safety audits, Mr. Wilson has been instrumental in our progressive approach to increase our safety measures each year. Under his guidance and in collaboration with our local Sheriff’s department, WCPS implemented the A.L.I.C.E. lockdown procedure in 2014 which is specifically designed to prepare staff and students for multiple types of threats. In 2014, our district invested more than $1 million implementing secured entry vestibules with additional monies spent in 2015 to add 3M Safety Glass to the front entrances of every building. In addition, we began a process a few years ago of systemically installing/updating our schools with the most advanced security camera technology. In the fall of 2017, WCPS invested in Navigate Prepared, a safety software program for developing, assessing and implementing school safety plans. These plans are now available and shared with our local law enforcement agencies and other first responders.
With a continued focus on mental health, Warren County Public Schools has launched a variety of resources for individuals to report suspected threats or concerns. These web based options include Report A Bully (2014) and Helping Hearts (2016). Prior to the addition of these resources, WCPS utilized a third-party anti-bullying software for more than a decade known as Lighthouse Anonymous Tip Line, which is still available to students, staff, and families today. Recent safety projects have included increased security lighting on campuses, installation of speed tables in high traffic areas, Knox Boxes for immediate key access for first responders, concrete bollards in front of vulnerable school entrances, and a full-time Certified Playground Inspector..
As one might expect, people often differ on which school safety measures are best for our students and staff. How far should we go to secure our facilities from potential harm? Because there is no single answer for preventing harm in our society, additional measures might be met with skepticism from some. Fortifying our schools would send a strong message of security to our community, but would it actually make our schools safer? Would it prevent the type of attacks that have been publicized across the nation? Unfortunately, there is a reasonable countermeasure to almost every safety measure a school can implement. Regardless of any additional safety measures, a school culture in which all students feel respected and comfortable reporting concerns to a trusted adult will always remain a priority for our District staff. Being proactive by addressing potential concerns early will always remain our best option for securing the safety of our students and staff. Strong working partnerships with our parent community will also enable us to better address situations on the front end.
Based upon the Regional Safe School Task Force report and conversations with individual members on the Task Force, I am prepared to recommend an expansion of our SRO program and mental health services to our Board of Education for consideration. In addition, I plan to recommend the implementation of portable (hand-held) metal detectors to be utilized as an additional safety mechanism in our schools. For sustainability purposes, I have been working with our Chief Financial Officer, Chris McIntyre, to develop a financial plan for ensuring any new safety measures are sustained in our district well into the future. You can count on us to continue monitoring our progress by making the necessary adjustments/improvements as additional “best practice” information becomes available.
As a father of three, please know that I fully recognize the importance of having your trust in our ability to ensure the safety of our students and I fully understand the concern many of us within our community feel right now. As Superintendent, I am proud of our district’s long standing reputation as a leader in school safety across the Commonwealth, and I am confident that our collaborative partnerships will enable us to continue making our schools a safe and nurturing environment for students to learn and grow. As always, you are encouraged to reach out directly to your building principal or to our Safety Director, Jay Wilson, at (270) 781-5150, with any questions or concerns. Please enjoy the summer break!