2018-06-15 / Columns

Proactive measures create safe, healthy schools

Superintendent’s Spotlight
By Kathryn Hawes Special to the Post

According to CNN, we are 21 weeks into 2018 and have experienced 23 school shootings in the United States. On average, that is more than one per week. Logically, many people ask what measures RSU 21 is taking relative to school safety.

The answer is twofold: We have a lot of work underway and there is always more that we can do.

Education

In addition to our K-12 aligned school counseling curriculum, our school counselors and social workers have now been trained in the Sandy Hook Promise Programs, Start with Hello and Say Something.

They will now work as K-5, 6-12 and K-12 groups to determine how to integrate these programs into our schools beginning next fall. Start with Hello is based on the premise that students in our society are experiencing increasing levels of social isolation.

Social isolation can lead to issues with social development, learning, and depression which may make students choose to hurt themselves or others.

Start with Hello is a full school, full district, even full community, movement toward inclusivity for all. Say Something is based upon the fact that in 80 percent of school shootings and 75 percent of suicides, someone knew and did not say anything.

Say Something teaches students, teachers, parents, and community members to recognize the signs and signals of a potential threat, teach and instill in participants how to take action, and drive awareness and reinforce the need to say something before an incident occurs. Also through Sandy Hook Promise, students at KHS are starting a Kennebunk Chapter of SAVE (Students Against Violence Everywhere).

Prevention

We are preparing to launch an Anonymous Digital Reporting System. In mid-June, RSU 21 and RSU 57 will meet with the Kennebunk Police Department, Kennebunkport Police Department and York County Sheriff’s office to be the first school districts in Maine to adopt this reporting system.

The system will allow students and adults to confidentially report issues including hopelessness, bullying, abuse, threats of harm, or weapons. The tips go to a 24/7 crisis staff and are then shared with school administration and/or local policing agencies for intervention.

Infrastructure

Prior to the renovation, Kennebunk High School had 57 exterior doors, many of which did not even latch appropriately. Mildred L. Day and Consolidated School also had issues with failing buildings and systems.

All of our schools are now structurally secure and have one main entrance. We have upgraded many of our camera surveillance systems, provided electronic swipe cards for employees, and installed computers to run background checks on visitors and volunteers. The foresight of voters in our three communities to invest in this renovation project will support the health and safety of our schools well into the future. We recently sent our facilities director to a national conference to learn to conduct school security assessments in effort to continue to evaluate our building infrastructure.

Collaboration

Every time RSU 21 administration has asked one or all of our local policing agencies for collaboration and assistance it has been provided. Most recently, the Kennebunk and Kennebunkport police departments and York County Sheriff’s office have: met with us to review our district using national school safety recommendations;

 walked each of our schools, joined staff meetings, reviewed scenarios, and role-played incidents;

 provided increased presence when requested and responded when a child or family is in crisis;

 and joined us to read, judge an academic competition, or participate in a special event.

Our full-time school resource officers at the middle and high schools have become a core fabric of the school, greeting students each morning, joining team meetings with faculty and joining clubs and activities.

Intervention

Through a grant from the National Association of Mental Illness, 35 of our counselors, psychologists and teachers participated in an eight-hour Mental Health First Aid course leading to a national credential to provide intervention. In the district budget that went to voters on June 12, there are two main proposals for additional resources.

A .8 guidance counselor at Kennebunkport Consolidated School. This .8 paired with the .2 social worker at Consolidated will allow for at least one full-time counselor in each of our schools to monitor and assist with student and family needs.

Four additional school resource officers. Much like the officers at the middle and high school, these officers will be shared with the towns of Kennebunk and Kennebunkport providing services to our elementary schools during the school year. Most school shootings are over in a matter of minutes and injuries are far less widespread when a resource officer has intervened. The role of the school resource officer also involves forming connections, being part of the school community, and having a read on the nearly 4,000 people who attend, work in, or visit our schools each week.

As an educator and superintendent, the safety of our schools is a top priority. As the parent of three children who will be in two of our schools next year, my investment in continuing to focus on the safety of our schools is heightened with each school tragedy.

Thank you for supporting secure facilities and the resources we need to identify and respond to the needs of our students and families. I encourage the whole community to join in our Start with Hello and Say Something campaigns next fall.

Kathryn Hawes is superintendent of schools for RSU 21.

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