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From the Superintendent’s Desk: Nine Recommendations Offered for ACS at Safe Schools Summit

April 1, 2013. From the Desk of David Burleson

Dear Community,

Safe Schools Summit Editorial

Our Safety Schools Summit held on March 14 and 15 was a wonderful experience for our community. Over 125 educators, law enforcement, personnel, fire and rescue personnel and concerned community members came together to hear Mr. Mike Dorn, international safe school expert, to discuss safety for our schools and community.  It was a true blessing to see the concern shown by those in attendance, and to understand that by working together, we can create the safest environments possible to keep our children safe.   

Supt. Burleson
Supt. Burleson

Not only did we learn a great deal about safety, but we were able to get to know each other a better and to develop strong working relationships in Avery County and the surrounding area.  We learned how to prevent tragedies in school, to how to recover from a crisis situation.  One of the greatest lessons we learned is that the greatest strength we have in Avery County is the people in our community.  We are very fortune to have some of the most wonderful people in the world living in Avery County, including our outstanding students. Not only is this strength for us; it is also a weakness, in one respect, because it makes us believe that everyone who may come into our any of our schools is there for a positive reason.  Unfortunately,we have learned from communitiesaround the worldthat people can come to schools to do harm. Our goal is to prevent that from occurring if at all possible in Avery County. 

The following will offer strategies from the summit as well as recommendations from staff and community:

1) We are currently updating and enhancing our safe schools plans for each ACS schools and our school system at large.  With the help of Mike Dorn and Safe HavensInternational we are developing emergency guides for each of our employees to use within our school system. Committees will be updating and refining guidelines targeted to be implemented for the 2013-14 school year.  

2) Each ACS bus has a radio and a GPS tracking device enabling constant communication with the bus driver imperative for locating students in the event of an emergency

3) Door locks and buzzer systems installation for all schools will be completed by the end of April.  These systems have an automatic door lock, camera and intercom system for the main entrance of each school. These systems will allow our schools to monitor who enters our buildings during the school day.  The doors will be locked after the tardy bell rings and will remain locked until students are dismissed at the end of the day. Research has proven this is one of the top strategies to keep students safe in schools. We all know that it is not a fool-proof system, but it is a very positive step in the right direction. 

4) The surveillance camera system is being upgraded at the high school and both middle schools. This is an excellent tool to monitor activities on school grounds greatly enhance the safety and security of our schools.  

5) Project S.A.F.E. will provide a pool of trained law enforcement volunteers who will assist our schools in providing a safer area for the education for students in Avery and Mitchell counties. This program is free to our district and made up of volunteers who will be available in the mornings and afternoons to assist school administrators and local law enforcement in whatever capacity is deemed appropriate.  We personally want to especially thank John King, Gerald Johnson and our own Sheriff Kevin Frye for all the diligent work and efforts to make this program a reality.  We also want to thank all those volunteers who will be working in our schools with one goal:  to provide a safe environment for our children.  

6) Teams of school administrators and law enforcement officers have been trained to do safety assessments for each school.  These assessments will take place often during the school year.  Assessments are designed to pin point unsafe areas and activities in schools and provide ideas and suggestions on how to create safer environment for our children.  Our goal within the next month is to have assessed all schools and provide safety plans to address any problems found.  

7) There is old saying, “Practice makes perfect.” We will be practicing our lock down drills and fire drills along with some other drills we learned about during the safety summit. The North Carolina General Assembly requires each school to perform monthly fire drills.  We are enhancing these drills by blocking exits and asking teachers to initiate fire drills. Our county fire marshal, David Vance has been included in these drills and is providing feedback that is very helpful to our schools. Drills that have been done up to this point have been a tremendous learning experience at each school.  

8) The online safety bullypatrolresource allows students, parents and community to report bullying issues or safety concerns.  Students, parents and community members can access this resource from the Avery County Schools’ website.

9) We are in the process of developing a system where students or staff can text emergency information when they see it occurring.  This suggestion came from one of our parents during the safety summit.

We want our community and especially our parents to know that these safety upgrades are in no way making a statement that parents and the community are not welcome to come into the schools.  Whenever schools are used for large groups, our school staff will meet parents and community members at the front door of the school for check-in.  

The schools will have procedures in place for parents dropping off and picking up students for school.  During these parking lot procedures, we are asking that everyone refrain from using cell phones. There have been many incidents were children have been injured and even killed by accidents resulting from individuals not paying attention while driving and using cell phones or texting.

Currently school access will be as it is now. The automatic door lock system will only be in operation during the regular school day.  Again, we encourage parents to be part of their child’s education.  Please understand that these new procedures may cause some slight delays. We encourage everyone to be patient as we do all we can to keep our children safe

Avery County Schools will continue to aggressively move forward to improve and enhance what we do in our schools to keep children safe. The ACS Safe Schools Committee will continue to meet on a regular basis to discuss safety issues. This committee along with school staff welcome your ideas and suggestions.  We will continue to take these strategies, learn from them and work collaboratively to enhance whatwe do for safety in Avery County.

On another note, our latest weather conditions have altered our school calendar.  Currently we have missed 19 days of school, four days above our average of 15 days.  Our hope and prayer is that spring is just around the corner and we have missed our last day. Our goal is to do everything possible to have our last student day along with graduation on June 7. We will review our calendar and information gleaned from a survey distributed to our students, parents and staffto determine how to make up these last few days due to snow. All suggestions will have to meet the General Statutes of North Carolina for school calendars.  In the past we were able to add time to the school day, but this is no longer permissible for this year. Next year’s calendar legislation will allow for additional hours to be added to the school day.  Making up time on Saturday is only possible if we miss a day during the week.  This year that has limited us tremendously because of the number of snowstorms occurring at the end of the week.  Currently, our options are to use one a spring break day or extend the school year after the first week on June. We will be discussing theses options at our board meeting on April9.  

We want to wish everyone a wonderful spring and I hope that you had a blessed Easter with your family. 

Thank you for your support of our school system.

David Burleson