Tuesday, January 12, 2016

School Safety is Job #1

We have a fundamental responsibility to ensure our students and staff feel safe at school so they can focus on teaching and learning.  Everything else is secondary.

Sadly, the 2012 tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut and other recent mass shootings compel us to be proactive and to ensure we have current practices and procedures in place to respond in the event of violence or a crisis.

Fortunately, Needham’s administrators and teachers collaborate closely with the Town’s public safety officials to discuss, plan, and coordinate school security and safety protocols and drills.  To view a recent Needham Schools Spotlight cable program featuring a school safety discussion with Needham administrators and Police Chief Schlittler, click here:   Needham Schools Spotlight: ALICE

After much consideration and planning, the Needham Public Schools will adopt the ALICE protocol (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate) to respond to a violent intruder. The ALICE approach provides tools and options for schools to respond more effectively and helps keep students and staff safe.  The current practice of having students hide quietly in a locked and darkened classroom under desks has not proven to be the safest reaction to an intruder bent on violence and mayhem.  For example, the “I” in ALICE, or Inform, means that school staff will receive quick information and kept up to date, in real time, about a school intrusion through the intercom system, classroom phone, or cell phones to ensure that students and staff are aware of the situation and can have a chance to react and respond appropriately and safely

In collaboration with the Needham Police, we have already trained several staff members and piloted the ALICE protocol at Mitchell, Hillside, and Needham High School.  Further training for all staff and developmentally appropriate student drills and training will take place in all of the schools over the next several months and into the 2016-17 school year. These scenarios and practices complement and support the other fire and bus safety drills students commonly experience throughout the year.  We expect to fully implement the ALICE protocol in the fall of 2016.

We still have more work ahead of us; school safety and security requires regular and ongoing discussion and planning.  I will never promise that we have it all figured out or guarantee that a tragedy will not strike our community or our schools.  Our efforts are robust but imperfect.  

But we will continue to think about the unthinkable and work with public safety officials, staff, students, and families to consider and implement plans and protocols that are appropriate and responsible.  The implementation of ALICE is one positive and necessary step in that direction.

To learn more about ALICE in the Needham Schools, click here:  ALICE Pesentation

Thanks to Superintendent Paul Stein of Wayland, Massachusetts for allowing me to share some of his perspective in my blog.

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