School Matters, Sept. 30, 2022

Hello Rogers Family,

Welcome to the next installment of School Matters. It is our hope these broadcasts will help keep you informed of important events and initiatives within the district. A transcript of the presentation can be found on our website. Thank you for tuning in for this update and contact us if you have questions.    

Last week, we introduced the proposed district goals for the Rogers Public Schools. Today’s broadcast is focused on discussing each of the strategies connected with each goal. Because there are a number of goals, we will address only one during each broadcast. It is important to discuss each of the strategies connected with each goal so stakeholders can gain a better understanding of exactly what we are doing. I have found that stakeholders may be supportive of a stated goal, but they may have objections to a specific strategy. The next few broadcasts will be dedicated to discussing each of the strategies we will use to accomplish the goals mentioned last week.  

Our first proposed goal is to ensure the safety of staff and students. Although these goals are only in draft form at this time, I am confident we will adopt this goal because safety is at the foundation of everything that we do. The following is a summary of what we will do to promote and ensure safety.  

First, we conduct a safety audit each year. During this audit, we look at virtually every logistical aspect of school. We review transportation, food service, building security, safety protocols, extracurricular programming, camera surveillance, and traffic patterns to identify deficiencies. In addition, we communicate with local law enforcement to ensure we have resolved any identified issues which arose last year and to discuss potential threats for this year. We also review state and national school-safety related events to learn from the mistakes others have made.  We use these recommendations and findings to improve safety protocols within our schools. All identified issues from this safety audit are noted and addressed in a timely manner.   

Second, we work each year to make our buildings more secure.  One of the primary ways to prevent horrific acts of violence is to have a secure facility and prevent a potential intruder from entering the building. All schools are now equipped with a security camera and buzz-in system. All visitors to schools must identify themselves and state their business before being allowed to enter the building.  Our front-office staff are consistently searching for suspicious individuals and will not allow anyone to enter the building if they have doubts.  Actually, last week, one of the front office staff did not recognize me and would not allow me in the building.  She eventually verified with someone else that I was the superintendent and allowed me in the building. I sincerely appreciate that type of vigilance.    

Another aspect of building security is internal doors. Research has stated that an armed intruder will seldom attempt to enter a locked classroom. These individuals have proven to take the path of least resistance and will not spend a great deal of time trying to gain access to a locked room. We focus on classroom doors being able to lock from the inside to create that path of resistance for intruders. In addition, most of the glass in doors has been covered, or has a curtain-type of device inside the room to prevent intruders from being able to see inside a locked room. This also conceals the location of students within the classroom. If students can’t run to safety, one of the best defenses is to lock themselves inside of a classroom and stay away from any window. 

Third, we conduct annual safety trainings and drills.  All staff members and administrators receive ALICE (Alert-Lockdown-Counter-Evacuate) training each year, which is a collection of research-based strategies proven to be effective with an armed intruder. These actions are not meant to be sequential in nature but provide different strategies depending on the immediate circumstance. During this training, we share any new information we have discovered throughout the year that will make our schools more safe. Some of this training requires dedicated drills for events such as tornadoes, earthquakes, and fire. Other drills are focused on non-weather possibilities such as intruders. All of this training allows our staff and students to become more familiar with potential safety issues and have practice on how to react if a real emergency were to occur.  

Fourth, we are looking for ways to provide additional school resource officers or some other type of school security officers within our schools. In the vast majority of cases, the school resource officer will not be required to deal with an armed intruder but they provide other types of essential services. One of the primary responsibilities of the school resource officer is to create connections and relationships with the students. Often, students will confide in these officers and share important information that could prevent something bad from happening. We want to place additional security staff in our buildings to create those connections. Unfortunately, it is extremely difficult at this time to find qualified candidates for these positions but we are looking at an innovative way to increase that number.  

Fifth, many of the horrific school-related events have been committed by individuals with mental health issues and social-emotional problems. Many of the students who were involved in school-shootings were not invested in school and felt disenfranchised. We have hired additional counselors, social workers, and therapists to help identify students who may be struggling with school or possess those serious anger issues. Once identified, we develop a plan to help those children and families.  Often, these mental health issues are extremely complicated and treatment plans can be a lengthy process involving a number of outside agencies. To address these issues, we provide more services than we have in the past to provide assistance to students who are struggling with mental health issues. In addition, we help families connect with external resources and agencies to address the more complicated mental health problems.  

Sixth, we communicate with each building-level administrator to discuss safety and identify ways to improve security.  We have these conversations annually with each principal and are focused on identifying areas of weakness which create potential breaches to our security. These areas are a top priority for us and we attempt to develop a solution for any perceived problem.  

Seventh, we have developed a tip-hotline in which individuals can report potential issues in confidence. We are encouraging staff and students to say something if they see something. These reports are anonymous and the system protects the identity of the reporter. We also receive notifications of potential threats from students and parents through normal means. Often, students will post a threat online through a variety of social media venues. Students or parents will notify school staff of these threats and we work with local law enforcement to determine the credibility of each report. In addition, students will report verbal comments and other threats made by fellow students which help us to identify problems earlier and intervene to prevent something from happening. It is important that students and parents understand they should report any stated threats, either verbal, written, or electronic to school administration.  

Eighth, we have created a strong working relationship with local law enforcement. I have worked in multiple school districts and in four different states. Our local law enforcement is the best and most responsive I have ever worked with in my career.  They are exceptional and very professional. They worked closely with school staff to identify potential problems, conduct thorough investigations, and respond immediately to any problems we may have. In addition, we have purchased a set of AWIN (Arkansas Wireless Information Network) radios which allow us to communicate with all school buildings, local law enforcement and other first responders. These radios are a valuable asset and allow us to provide constant communication among all involved parties. At times during an armed intruder event, the internal phone systems can be compromised and it is difficult to maintain communication with all stakeholders. In addition, we have software which allows local law enforcement to connect with our surveillance cameras. If there were ever an armed intruder, local authorities would have access to all internal cameras which would help to locate an intruder and direct the response team to the that area of need. 

Ninth, we always maintain an open line of communication and encourage staff to share ideas and suggestions on how we can improve safety.  Actually, this includes all stakeholders (including staff and community members) and we value feedback on how we can improve.  

Tenth, while we are dealing with those potential acts which possess high consequences but are low probability such as an armed intruder, we are also dealing with those common safety issues which are much more likely to happen. This will involve issues such as congested traffic patterns, crossing areas near schools, playground equipment, and routine maintenance issues which can create safety problems for us.  

All of these actions create schools which have proven to be one of the safest places to be. The school board and the administration of Rogers Public Schools are committed to the safety of our children and the staff. Please let us know if there are ways to improve our safety protocols and we will continue to make safety our top priority. I appreciate your attention to this broadcast and remember, School Matters!