Besides the home, schools are where students and staff spend the majority of their time. Home is often thought of as the safe and secure space for our community members to enjoy quality time with family, but it should be noted that schools are increasingly becoming that refuge for many of our students.
We are committed to ensuring success for our students in their learning and success for our staff in their jobs by first ensuring that our campuses are secure and safe.
After a successful panel discussion and community conversation in March of 2018, not long after the events in Parkland, Florida, Henry County Schools found wholesome thoughts and ideas from community stakeholders around the ideas of security and safety in our school district. The wealth of information gathered was matched with current efforts from school officials aimed at keeping our schools as the inviting, safe spaces they should always be known as even in the face of greater safety risks.
From those discussions came ideas around things that our district does well to protect and secure our school community members, but there was great discussion focused on things that could be added or enhanced to bolster the secure the feeling we hope all families enjoy when visiting or learning on our school grounds. Some of these enhancements and additions were simple, no-cost items, while other suggestions involved expenditures for projects to reach completion.
Before all else, we will continue to work with our local law enforcement partners, the Henry County Emergency Management Agency and the Georgia Emergency Management Agency, by way of having our safety plans reviewed annually. This allows for the best oversight of the plans we utilize in a moment of crisis. Safety officials can remedy anything that we might inadvertently overlook with the suggestions and review.
Additionally, we have been able to collaborate with the Henry County Board of Commissioners and the Henry County Sheriff’s Office to increase the number of school resource officers in our district. Thanks to this agreement, we now have a school resource officer in each of our middle and high schools and within closer proximity to our elementary schools.
Our high schools will soon be the recipients of a layer of security doors to keep the flow of outside visitors to the schools going through the main office upon entering the building. This mirrors the same security measure in place at our elementary and middle schools.
Visits by parents and guests to the school also require a greater focus on their signing into our CheckMate registration system. This will ensure that everyone is properly identified and accounted for when heading out into the school building if their visit entails such action.
Other measures such as buzz-in systems and identification badges/name tags for students will soon be in the pilot stages for our district facilities.
Most importantly, we rely on our school community to play an equally important part in the security of our schools by pointing out issues and concerns when they arise. The trust and connection to our community will only foster greater learning outcomes and success for our students.
The measures taken to ensure a secure environment are important to the wellbeing of our students and staff, but there is much more that goes into enabling these individuals to actually feel the sense of security and safety we hope everyone enjoys across Henry County Schools.
We know that a school’s environment, particularly the attention paid to student security, can lead to an increase in positive outcomes for students as measured by indicators like test scores, graduation rates, and student attendance. There are also decreases in instances of discipline referrals for fighting and bullying.
Our new division of Family and Student Support Services has been instrumental in keying in on social and emotional learning (SEL) to promote emotionally safe learning environments. This current work will continue to have profound impacts on students and their school experience. Framework for social and emotional learning includes self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making.
There are many partnerships that exist and continue to be formed to support our students’ needs at school. From mental to physical health, the attention given to student needs when they would potentially go without is allowing students to have basic needs met that would otherwise cause learning gaps due to time away from class.
Also of note, when a crisis or tragic situation occurs, our dedicated staff of counselors and social workers from all across the school system stand ready to jump in and help students and staff who may have a difficult time coping with the situation they just became aware of or involved in. We cannot predict when or where tragedy will strike, but the response plan to meet the emotional and mental needs of our students and staff serves to help lessen the impact these events can have on one’s life.
We will continue to focus on ways to foster a positive learning environment for all of our schools through unique partnerships with external agencies, groundbreaking programs focused on the needs of all students, and support for our dynamic staff of caring professionals.
Our schools do a great job in planning and preparing each year throughout the year for the times we hope never come, the critical moments of a crisis. There are many different types of crises, all of which warrant a different approach by way of planning, personnel, and communication to our key stakeholders. Our first priority in responding to any crisis is the immediate response to our students and staff. We routinely plan and review with local law enforcement our plans for emergency situations to ensure that we can minimize the negative effects of an impactful event with a quick and thorough response. This critical preparation piece helps to maintain our strategies for a coordinated response and the need for clear and timely communication to reduce any potential misinformation or confusion.
We are fortunate to have a diverse list of communication tools to meet the needs of our community, each designed to be deployed in a rapid manner. As the need for information in an emergency proves vital to community trust, so does the need to make sure that information is accurate. We will continue to lean on our partnership with local government officials and local law enforcement to provide our community with information that will provide clarity around crucial details and next steps for our students, staff, and their families’ well-being.