Safety and the Students at Hamilton Southeastern Schools: Part 1

Back in March the Hamilton Southeastern School leadership reached out to individuals at each of the twenty-one schools to have a meeting to discuss security within the schools. The “school safety” meeting was focused on having a community conversation around how safe our kids are within the HSE schools.

The meeting was kicked off by Superintendent Dr. Bourff and lead by Dr. Beresford, the Assistant Superintendent of Staff and Student Services. They expected to have a forty- to fifty-minute presentation followed by two-way discussion. It was no surprise that the actual presentation of information by the district was closer to 90 minutes before the conversation started. In this post, I present many of my notes from this meeting. As you’ll see below, a lot was covered.

Recently the district had a second meeting that covered many of the same topics that was open to the public. That meeting was attended by hundreds of members of the community, numerous members of the police forces from around Hamilton County, and the mayor. The comments made at this more recent meeting were similar to the comments made in March.

Safety Procedures at Hamilton Southeastern Schools

Dr. Bourff kicked off the March meeting by indicating that there are many safety procedures in place within the HSE schools that they couldn’t share in order to protect the procedures. It was stated that there are a number of safety procedures in place and that many of the safety procedures would continue to evolve and improve.

The point person within HSE for security related activities is Dr. Beresford. (Update: Dr. Beresford is leaving HSE Schools to work for the Carmel-Clay district. As such, it is expected that a new person will be taking the role of security related activities for HSE.)

Dr. Bourff indicated that there are many layers to the safety procedures within the school system that all work together. In addition to these layers, there are many individuals within the school system that contribute to core initiatives around the safety and security of the kids.

Dr. Beresford stated, “We’re responsible for keeping your kids safe.” He went on to say that school shootings shake everyone up. Shootings not only impacts the kids and parents, but it also shakes up the teachers and administration. It is for this reason that they have a lot of people engaged in continually improving the strategy and in working with the schools and community. Many of the people leading safety initiatives attended the March meeting to present on School Safety.

Three Layers of Prevention

Dr. Beresford indicated that there are three areas of focus when discussing school safety: Prevention, Response, Recovery.

One of the most important keys to prevention of issues within the schools is to maintain positive relationships and communication. By having positive relationships, it is more likely communication will happen. There are three layers of communication that are pinnacle for reducing the chance of safety issues happening within the school.

The number one source of information around potential issues is students.

The importance of keeping channels of communication open with the students and others was emphasized as being critical. The school works hard to make sure that students are comfortable in sharing what they hear or see that might seem out of line or a bit “off”.

The second layer that provides information in the prevention of issues is communications from parents and staff. Like with students, parents and staff are more likely to see or hear something that could indicate an issue.

The third layer in the prevention is the communication that happens via other sources. This would include comments and tips that come from social media or other sources. Social media sources such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat often are used as sources to provide evidence of potential issues.

Text-a-Tip

One of the existing preventative programs currently in place is Text-Tip, which is a program that allows students, parents, or others to send text or email messages anonymously. It was indicated that these tips go through a third party that is outside of Indiana. This helps maintain the privacy of the person making the tip. Even by going through a third party, it was indicated that the system can be extremely fast and can be two-way. The administration has the ability to reach back to the third party, which can then respond back to the tipster if more information is needed.

Text-a-Tip is one of the top two or three channels for the administration to get information. It was indicated that the system is helpful beyond even security information. Text-a-Tip can be added to your mobile phone contacts under the number 274637.

Mental Health Initiatives

When it comes to school safety, mental health is a topic that is brought up as well. It was stated that “mental health is always a piece of the profile of kids that do violence.”

Within the Hamilton Southeastern schools, several mental health initiatives have been pushed to the forefront this past year. This includes each of our schools having a therapist that is available to the students. This was a direct result of the referendum dollars and a program that was set up with Community Health.

Along with the addition of therapists, there has been training within the schools. All staff have received suicide prevention training as well as CIT-Y, Critical Incident training. All of this is overseen by a director of mental health and school counseling, Brooke Lawson, who works within the Central Office.

Police in the Schools: School Resource Officers (SROs)

One of the key areas of helping secure our schools is the inclusion of School Resource Officers (SROs). There are currently seven SROs within the HSE school system. At the recent public meeting, it was stated that the district is looking to add additional SROs in the future. Lt. Mike Johnson talked at the meeting about the role of the SROs within the schools.

SROs are trained police offers that have the roles of teaching, counseling, and providing enforcement. While these are police officers, the role of law enforcement is really a minor part of what they do. They are also not disciplinarians. That is a role that the school takes on.

Lt. Mike Johnson defined SROs as:

A School Resource Officer (SRO) is a career, sworn, law enforcement officer employed by the police department or other law enforcement agency in a community-oriented policing assignment to work in collaboration with one or more schools.

The SROs are focused on building relationships within the schools with the students. Because it is a unique role, not ever police officer is qualified to become an SRO. Police officers are carefully selected for the position and then specially trained. It is because of this special training and careful selection that new SROs are not immediately available. Rather, officers selected today would be trained to be ready later in the year for the positions.

SROs go through special training, which includes 40 hours of course work beyond what they learn as a regular police officer. This training includes a variety of areas including:

  • Emergency Operations Plans
  • CPTED/Vulnerability Assessments
  • Threat Response
  • ALICE Lockdown Response
  • Trauma Informed Practices
  • Human Trafficking
  • School Law
  • Understanding Special Needs Students
  • Adolescent Mental Health
  • Violence and Victimization in Youth (ACES)
  • Policing the Teenage Brain
  • Drug Trends/Prevention
  • And more…

One of the tasks that SROs do above and beyond working within the schools is to create a list of issues they find in the schools. This can range from things as simple as broken sidewalks where someone could get hurt to concerns with student access that could cause safety issues.

Overall, the SROs are involved in many programs within the schools. Some of the programs that have evolved within the district include:

  • Safe School Teams / Safe School Specialists
  • DARE Program
  • Cops and Kids
  • CPTED
  • Explorers / Teen Academy
  • Text-a-Tip
  • Youth Mentoring
  • Books and Badges
  • Coaching
  • Mock Accidents
  • Bully Prevention
  • Pre-School Safety
  • Youth Assistance

In addition to the communication that happens with the SROs within the schools, there is also regular communication between the local police and the school leadership. Issues such as domestic violence can have an impact on a child and thus it is important for councilors and certain others within a school system to be aware of such issues.

Continue to Safety and the Students at Hamilton Southeastern Schools, Part 2.

Safety and the Students at Hamilton Southeastern Schools, Part 2

This is a continuation of the Safety and the Students at Hamilton Southeastern Schools, Part 1 article.

Safety Specialists

Christi Thomas talked about communications and the use of safety specialists within HSE. It is required by state legislation for school districts to have at least one safety specialist. HSE has 40 trained specialists on staff with at least one in each of the 21 schools.

In addition to having safety specialists, each school also has a safety plan that include an emergency reference guide. These plans are available in flowcharts for easy use to those that need them. These are not made public because, as mentioned before, their confidentiality helps in providing security to the schools.

The overall program for the safety specialist is led by the safety coordinators, Christi Thomas mentioned earlier and Ryan Taylor. Additionally, the Indiana School Safety Specialists Academy (ISSSA) is used.

While school shootings have been the topic in the limelight, there are other issues that are rare, but real as well. The safety specialists don’t want to be too distracted from issues that happen more often. This can include issues such as seizures in class, missing kids, or even gas leaks. The little things that happen every day are important to manage as well as those rarer issues.

ALICE

One area that the schools focus on for safety is ALICE. More can be found on the ALICE program at www.alicetraining .com. Alice stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, and Evacuate. It is a program that addresses methods to proactively handle a thread such as an aggressive intruder or active shooter.

While the acronym includes the phrase lockdown, the core of the ALICE training is that each situation is different and thus students and teachers need to know the options they have in dealing with situations. The ALICE training site has a lot of information for individuals, organizations, and more.

One area of ALICE that has caused controversy is the “C” for Counter. This was addressed with the statement that “If you do nothing, bad things will happen. If you do something, then bad things might happen.” The protocol of hiding in the corner is no longer considered a good approach. Distracting or otherwise taking action is considered a better approach. A reference was made to Virginia Tech, where it was noted that the kids that ran and fought were the ones that survived.

While tornados haven’t killed students in recent years, schools still do drills to keep kids safe. It was noted that there are roughly 77 million students. An average of only 11 are killed a year. Having said that, it was stated that “No bad guy has breached a locked door at a school.”

What HSE Schools are Already Doing

HSE schools are ahead of the curve on some of the programs that have been implemented in regard to safety. Again, while all the changes were not discussed, there are several key programs that have improved the safety of the schools within HSE.

Better Access Control

One of the biggest changes that occurred after Sandy Hook has been the revamping of the primary entrances to schools to give better access control. During the daytime hours, visitors are required to enter through the schools’ main entrances. In the past, small cameras were used with a buzzer for people to request entry into a building. This has been completely replaced with vestibules that were designed for a more secure entry. These include laminated glass doors that allow the office staff to see anyone requesting to enter the building. Unlike the cameras, the staff can get a full view of the person along with their body language. The previous use of buttons and cameras didn’t allow for this level of visibility.

In the few cases where the vestibules couldn’t be added, high definition cameras and other monitoring have been added to increase the visibility of who is entering.

Delay, Delay, Delay

There are also multiple sets of doors. These doors provide delays in people getting into the building. The idea of “delay, delay, delay” is a part of the security strategy. Slowing down a person’s ability to get into the school increases the time for those within the school to react.

Many of the schools have included glass walls for visibility and a more open concept. The increase of glass in school designs is a safety concern that often gets brought up. It is important to know that the entry doors and glass walls are laminated. While this is not bullet proofing, it does prevent the glass from shattering. It was stated that laminated glass walls are as safe or possibly even safer than walls made with drywall.

Background Checks

An additional safety feature is the use of background checks. All visitors to HSE schools are required to have a recent background check on file. While many people feel that background checks are silly, they are a key part of the safety strategy that started about 12 years ago. HSE currently uses Safe Visitors out of Plainville, Indiana to do the checks.

If a person has an issue on their background check, then they will not be allowed to enter the buildings during the school day. It has been stated that several people have complained about not being allowed to sit with their child at lunch, to volunteer, or to attend a class party. Regardless, the school system has indicated that if a background check isn’t clean, then a person won’t be allowed into the school.

Teachers also get background checks when they are hired as well as every five years after.

Communication

One of the areas that the district has been working to improve is communication. Communication can occur anywhere from a one-to-one level all the way up to district wide communications using. There are a variety of avenues for communicating that include the district web site that is being updated to the Skylerts that send emails and text messages. With staff, the district uses a set of redundant tools that range from telephone calls to texts to emails and emergency radios.

The school system has put in place common language in the form of the Common Language Safety Chart that is to be used when discussing issues. The following figure shows the wording used based on the level of threats that might occur.

Continuous Improvements

Safety is an area that will require constant updating. As threats evolve, so must the plans and efforts to insure the safety of the kids attending our schools. Members of the HSE school safety team do regular evaluation of school incidents that occur in other cities, states, across the country, and even internationally. There are debriefings that occur on school safety incidents. Additionally, there are regular reviews as well as an annual ISSSA certification.

This article continues with Safety and the Student at Hamilton Southeastern Schools, Q & A.

Safety and the Students at Hamilton Southeastern Schools – Q & A

This is a continuation of the Safety and the Students at Hamilton Southeastern Schools, Part 1 article.

Questions and Answers from the HSE Safety Meeting

The March meeting was followed with an open discussion question and answer session. Questions were raised around several common issues. The following is based on my notes from the meeting.

Q: Why doesn’t HSE screen kids?

Dr. Bourff indicated this was a regular question. He indicated that the district does not screen kids.

Q: Could we restrict the size of backpacks?

This is something that could be considered. Another question that was raised at the public meeting was in regard to using clear backpacks. Dr. Bourff indicated this is something that they would take under consideration as well. There was also an indication that at some point (years) in the future, the use of technology might reduce or eliminate the need for backpacks.

My personal thought to this is based on feedback I’ve heard. Clear backpacks are not necessarily a viable solution. Would you also remove pockets, coats, purses, and other areas where items could be smuggled into a building? Additionally, there are some items that are needed by kids such as medications and personal hygiene items that could be embarrassing to carry in a clear bag where other kids could see them.

Q: Do we have ‘circles’ or times where each kid can be simply asked “how are you doing?”

I don’t have an answer written for this question. Part of the role of the SROs is to build these relationships and to work on keeping communication open with students. It is hoped that teachers, counselors, and others would do this as well.

Q: Is the school district considering metal detectors?

Dr. Bourff addressed this question with a response that it was “not likely. Maybe.” He indicated that metal detectors are not shown to be effective. In addition to weapons being left outside of a school, there are numerous issues that come with the logistics and costs of using metal detectors. There are enough details around metal detectors that I’ve written a separate commentary on the topic.

Q: There is a requirement to have a background check to volunteer for class parties, however, the doors seem to be open more freely during this type of school event…

The response to this was, “We have moments where we are vulnerable. There are a number of times when the offices simply can’t cycle the number of people that are entering a building. This is a topic that will need to be reviewed.”

Q: Will class parties be taken away? For example, the “Wellness Walk” at one of the schools is rumored to be possibly taken away.

Dr. Beresford responded that they don’t want to frighten the kids, but they want the kids to be secure. When there is a cop on campus, most bad people will leave.

This is the answer I have in my notes. It doesn’t really answer the question. This question was followed by the next question.

Q: Is it possible to have more security officers at vulnerable times?

It was indicated that during some of these more vulnerable times there are traffic cops and others that are also at the school or within the areas.

Q: Are there any plans for an SRO at all of the schools?

Currently there are seven SROs for the 21 HSE schools. There is one at each of the high schools and then the others bounce between the rest of the schools.

Dr. Beresford commented on this question. He indicated that all public buildings such as court houses have security with the exception of schools and possibly post offices. He stated that we have 22 buildings but can’t afford 22 officers. While one person in the audience indicated that the district should raise taxes to get an officer in every school, that person didn’t currently have a child within HSE yet.

Dr. Bourff indicated that there has been a discussion on a state-wide initiative for a referendum to cover school security. He stated that there are some schools in the state that might not have the funds for SROs, so there are issues at the state level that need to be addressed.

Lt. Johnson indicated that there should be more SROs added to the school He said there has already been a request for another SRO for next year (2018-19 school year). At the more recent public meeting, Dr. Bourff indicated that several SROs could possibly be added next year. He indicated that the district would only hire the right candidates for the role and that any new SROs would need to be trained before they could start. Budget would need to be found to cover any new hires.

Q: There was an incident at Fall Creak. Some parents indicated that the communication from the principal to the parents was vague. Who approved the wording? Is there a protocol for such messages when issues happen in the schools? Why was there not communication district wide on the issue?

Lt. Johnson stated that the emails sent out for the Fall Creak issue were crafted with input from the police and the HSE administration. Because there was an ongoing investigation and because they were still responding to the incident, some information needed to be restricted. There was pushback from the police chief to limit any communication.

Overall, it was indicated that communication needs to be better. One parent requested that more follow-up happen after such incidents to provide a more “warm and fuzzy” feeling to parents so that they know their kids are going to be safe at school.

Q: In another state, officers did some of their work at the schools. They used the school as an ‘office’. Could this be done at HSE with the Fishers police?

Lt. Johnson addressed this question. He stated that at one point, the officers did do this. At this time, however, the time spent in a roll call room or office by police officers is extremely low because most of the reports are done on the computers in their cars. They have shifted to a paperless system.

Having said that, there was also an indication that officers could possibly spend more time in the areas of schools beyond the traffic control that happens. Even having police cars sitting in the parking lots can help.

Another response to this question was by the Fishers High School Assistant Principal. He stated that there is a focus on “people over products”. This was related to spending money for solutions whether it be hiring more SROs or buying metal detectors. The idea is that there are a lot of things you can do that don’t cost, and that can be done with what is already within the schools. Having police park in the school lots was one example. Another example that he presented was to have door checks done by students. Students with clipboards can check each of the doors on a regular basis during the school day to confirm that they are closed and locked. This not only helps confirm safety, it also teaches responsibility as well as engages students in the process.

Q: A lot of schools are election locations. Will this be revisited going forward?

Dr. Bourff indicated that, yes, this is a safety issue as is the traffic that such events cause. While a civics lesson would be lost, he doesn’t know how long schools will continue to be used for elections. With the last presidential election, they did close school for that day.

Dr. Beresford commented that extra security protocols happen on the election days. Additionally, three HSE schools have already been removed from being used for elections. Those school locations were shifted to churches.

Q: Studies are coming out indicating kids are having an adverse reaction to the drills and ALICE.

This was stated by a person attending the meeting. The HSE administration indicated that they had not heard this and asked that any information on the topic be shared with them.

Q: Stigma Free is at the high schools. Will it be rolled out to the Junior Highs as well?

The response was that Stigma Free is at all schools. Stigma Free at the high schools was initiated by students. There are friend groups and such related to this. Additionally, the Guiding All Kids initiative is doing some of the same efforts. Social emotion needs are addressed as are kindness wells, mindfulness, and other things.

Dr. Beresford indicated that kids will be under stress their entire life. As such, they need to be taught how to manage life.

Q: Will teachers be given guns?

This question was addressed at both the meeting in March as well as the public meeting. Dr. Bourff indicated that this is very unlikely. Police officers and SROs are trained professionals. Not only are they trained to use guns, but they are also trained to handle high-stress situations. Training for police officers is updated regularly. Dr. Bourff indicated that expecting a teacher to effectively use a firearm without making a mistake in a high stress situation doesn’t make sense. Such situations are tough for police officers and SROs that go through regular training.

Conclusion

Dr. Bourff ended the meeting by asking if it would be good to get with the PTOs to provide training or workshops on what parents can do or communicate around this topic. He indicated that fact sheets could be created as could webinars that could be placed onto the school website. The March meeting was followed up with a larger public meeting, and there were indicates that additional communication would continue to occur.

Overall, HSE schools are considered ahead of the curve on what they have done regarding securing the safety of the students and teachers. Even so, the administration has indicated that this is an area where ongoing improvements will continue to address the ever-evolving issues that surround keeping kids safe.

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Teacher Retention at HSE Schools

WRTV 6 did a story on teacher retention in Indiana schools today. They indicated that 18% of the teachers and administrators left their school in a single year. That puts the retention on average at 82%. With over 12,426 educators, that is a large turnover.

You might think that HSE Schools are immune to this turnover; however, you’d be wrong. We have teachers leaving regularly as well, which is why I’ve raised it as an issue while running for a school board position. While some turn over is expected as a result of retiring or other reasons, there are also those teachers that state they are leaving for reasons such as being tired of “teaching to tests” or the teacher who feels they are not being heard. Some also leave to make more money in other districts.

It was reported that 8.5% of teachers in Indiana left for reasons other than retirement. Before saying 8.5% doesn’t seem bad, that’s over 1,000 educators in Indiana.

You can find the reasons that WRTV 6 found by reading their article at:

http://www.theindychannel.com/longform/call-6-thousands-of-indiana-teachers-leaving-the-classroom

There are a few things that are concerning in the story. This includes the comment that Indiana schools are not tracking why educators are leaving. This is a topic I’m sure will be addressed by the administration as it would be mind boggling to think this isn’t being tracked.

Glenda Ritz’s comment about taking the issue to the General Assembly seems extremely odd.  Why would you not simply tell the school administrators to start tracking why teachers are leaving so you can work to retain those that remain? Any administrator deserving of the role should already be tracking or aware of this. If it takes getting a group of politicians to tell you it is okay to do a basic management function, then we have a bigger task ahead of us if we want to fix issues in our schools. Furthermore, creating a panel to review the causes is great, but if that panel fails to ask any of the other 12,400+ educators questions, then the last work that should be used to describe the effectiveness is “proactive”.

On the positive, discussions around teacher pay as well as on how teacher evaluations are done makes a lot of sense. These are topics that do need to be addressed at the state and district level.

The article actually includes retention rates for Indiana schools. I’ve not verified the data with what our administration, but I’ll assume that RTV6 has verified this. Here are numbers for some of the HSE Schools for 2014-15. Note that our average from these schools is 81%, just under the state average of 82%.  Nine of the schools scored below the state average.

School Name

Retained

Total Retention Rate
571 Brooks School Elementary 45 57 79%
572 Cumberland Road Elem School 25 34 74%
573 Durbin Elementary School 19 25 76%
574 Fall Creek Elementary School 34 40 85%
575 Fall Creek Intermediate School 43 65 66%
576 Fishers Elementary School 27 27 100%
577 Fishers High School 141 157 90%
578 Fishers Junior High School 54 67 81%
580 Geist Elementary School 35 42 83%
581 Hamilton SE Int and Jr High Sch 31 67 46%
582 Hamilton Southeastern HS 133 162 82%
583 Harrison Parkway Elementary School 33 35 94%
584 Hoosier Road Elementary School 37 42 88%
585 Lantern Road Elementary School 29 32 91%
586 New Britton Elementary School 30 36 83%
587 Riverside Intermediate School 52 60 87%
588 Riverside Junior High 60 71 85%
589 Sand Creek Elementary 32 46 70%
590 Sand Creek Intermediate School 54 64 84%
591 Thorpe Creek Elementary 36 45 80%
950 1174 81%

 

Clearly there is work to be done in the area of retaining good teachers.

Things That Make HSE Schools Better: The HSE Foundation

The Hamilton Southeastern Schools Foundation (HSSF) supports the schools here in my hometown of Fishers. The foundation makes it possible for teachers to get grants to do special projects as well as provides a number of other services and scholarships. While local PTOs, such as the one I am a part of at Riverside Intermediate, are also providing the opportunity for teachers to get grants, the HSSF has the ability to support bigger initiatives than we can do.

This week the HSSF has posted an infographic and video on what they have been able to do this past year. Rather than rehash the details here in my blog, I’ve simply included the video.

The HSSF and their activities are one of the many things that help make HSE schools among the top in the state and in the country.

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Using Cool Tech to Teach in a Fun Way…

I just saw this video from Sphero and was impressed to see that the featured teacher is Brad Lowell from Hamilton Southeastern’s Fall Creak Intermediate school. It is impressive to see how Mr. Lowell has taken what was initially a shared interest with students and turned it not only into a club, but evolved it into classroom learning.

Rather than write numerous paragraphs on what Mr. Lowell is doing and the results, let me simply post a video here where he explains it himself. The video starts with one of the best quotes as to what makes a great teacher, “The trick is that your really disguising the learning in the fun. There is so much learning that they’re getting, that they don’t even realize. The math the science…” Rather than quoting the whole vidoe, here it is:

I actually own a Sphero myself. While it is a simplistic device in what it can do, it is a great device to entertain and challenge a person into working through basic concepts around programming and such. It is also a great way to get into robotics.

If you are unfamiliar, a Sphero is a plastic computerized ball that can be controlled remotely. You can control the direction of its movement including its speed as well as control the color of the light that is shining within it. Using Bluetooth, it can be controlled by a phone or tablet such as an iPad.

As you can see in the video, the HSE class is using iPads to do their controlling of the devices. As a note, all fifth graders in the Hamilton Southeastern schools have to have an iPad. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said about Spheros. You can, however, find Spheros at places like Brookstone or on Amazon. There was also a special Star Wars BB-8 version of Sphero available.

As Mr. Lowell says, it is also a way to apply some of the core topics students are learning such as math.I’ll be curious to see how Hamilton Southeastern schools applies what Mr. Lowell has done to the other intermediate schools in their district. With my kids being in one of those other schools, I hope the information is shared and replicated!