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Northview Public Schools is taking a proactive stance on school safety. We use two sources to guide us in our work of ensuring that our learning community is safe and that we are all effectively prepared. The first source is a collaborative report from the Secret Service and the Department of Education, titled “The Final Report and Findings of the Safe School Initiative: Implications for the Prevention of School Attacks in the United States“, and the second is a more recent report, “Call for Action to Prevent Gun Violence in the United States of America.“(PDF)
The data contained in these reports present the clearest message—that prevention cannot be oversold as the most effective and certain strategy to prevent violence on a school campus. Prevention entails more than security measures. It requires a change in mindset and policy that is not based on reaction to a gunman entering a school, but rather to what can be done beforehand. It requires change in a school’s culture.
Being bullied at school was a common experience shared by perpetrators of school violence in the Safe School Initiative study, and one that Northview, along with most public school districts, has worked diligently to address with students. In addition, we have established partnerships over the past two years with Pine Rest and Spectrum Health to provide professional development for our internal Mental Health Team and training for school office personnel to help them recognize signs of struggle in our students and families.
In the fall of 2016, Northview implemented a social/emotional program at Crossroads Middle School. This program was expanded to Highlands the following year, and in the summer of 2017, the Task Force on Health and Well-Being of Middle and High School Students was established. Additionally, this school year we created a district-level position (Education Specialist) to coordinate district services for truancy, homelessness, foster care and other situations that require wrap-around support for students and families. This position also oversees behavioral interventions such as restorative circles, risk assessments and mental health services.
These combined efforts are one way that Northview is being proactive in preventing violence on its school campuses. Please look for our next message about school safety on April 16. In the meantime, make plans to attend the Community Safety Summit on May 1, where solution-minded leaders will discuss ways to promote community safety. As always, we welcome your feedback, concerns and ideas. Thank you.
One of the key findings in the Safe School Initiative report is that incidents of school violence, particularly those that involve firearms, are not impulsive. The data show that the planning can take from 1 to 2 days up to a year, and that the individuals who carry out the acts almost always talk about their plans. They may do so on social media, through written expression like poetry or composition or in conversation with other students or peers. Seldom does a perpetrator threaten their intended victims, and rarely does the talk reach an adult.
At Northview, we embrace the power that our students possess to intervene and thwart the planning and execution of a violent incident. Our Student Responsibility Centers (SRCs) provide an open door and encourage “compassionate accountability” to address the heavy burden created for students who may overhear or be privy to disturbing comments or postings. The SRCs offer a safe space for students who may feel unsure about what to do with the information. Silent Observer is always available, and our Security Advisory Team is currently reviewing the OK2SAY tool as an additional option. Students and families can be assured that information shared about a suspected individual or planned incident will be handled professionally, confidentially and with the necessary regard for privacy of all parties involved. It is our responsibility to support both the at risk student with appropriate intervention, as well as the student who reports a concern.
Further, it is our mission to communicate in a timely manner to our students, families and community any information that can be shared when a potential incident comes to light.
Northview’s students so ably stepped up in the planning and demonstration on March 14 to honor the Parkland victims. What we observed on that day was dignified and respectful and students’ interactions were infused with kindness toward each other. The event was planned and led by our students, and exemplified behavior required in future leaders of our country.
As Northview has worked toward improving safety and security, we have readily sought out professional support and resources available to us within our community. We are one of eight districts in Kent County to have a full-time School Resource Officer, Deputy Kozal.
Northview is also one of only two districts in Kent County that partners with Pine Rest to provide an onsite Behavioral Health Liaison. Mr. Eric VanBuskirk, LMSW, serves to support our students and their families by assisting our social workers, counselors and principals. Mr. VanBuskirk is especially adept at helping to connect our students and families to community behavioral health resources.
To encourage and promote a safe campus, and to provide an anonymous and confidential avenue for reporting criminal, drug or firearm activity, our district has posted visible information about the Silent Observer/”Fast 50″ program. Students are encouraged to report observations which may cause concern or anxiety, with the assurance that reports are investigated confidentially and immediately in partnership with district administrators.
Some tips are handled using district resources; activity of a more serious nature is handled through local law enforcement. Specific details can be found at: https://www.silentobserver.org/fast-50.
To be certain that we are doing all we can do to provide a safe environment for Northview students, we also reached out to Secure Education Consultants (SEC/Firestorm) for a review of our physical campus, buildings, and to review our crisis response protocols. SEC provided an in-depth review of each of our buildings in December 2016. We have already addressed and acted upon many of these recommendations, including application of safety film for the large glass entries in some of our facilities, installation of additional cameras, and the revision of safety protocols. More detailed information about the report and our response will be provided at the May 1st Community Safety Summit.
In addition, we are currently working with Rockford Construction to address theinstallation of secure vestibules in our elementary and middle schools.
Over the past several weeks as we’ve communicated around this topic, one idea has emerged as central to all of our efforts: The success of any community in providing a safe, secure environment for its children depends upon everyone working collaboratively — school staff, teachers, administrators, students, parents, business leaders and professionals and all other members of the community.
It is true that today’s schools cannot stand alone in the effort to provide a safe environment for students. Northview’s outreach to professional mental health experts in support of our students, families and staff through the various programs I wrote about previously exemplifies our commitment to this truth.
Meeting the needs of the whole child to help him/her develop into a healthy, successful, responsible and productive member of the community requires the engagement and support of all members of that community. It also requires providing a safety net for any gaps that may exist in the interface between home, school, work and the recreational environment. Further, a good safety net requires constant communication and collaboration between each of these stakeholder groups.
Another tenet of Northview’s efforts is the enlisting of business partners to promote the interest and support of mentors and other significant adult involvement with students as they mature toward community participation.
As our children move from home to school to work or play, we must provide seamless transitions, expecting that accountability follows from one environment to the next and that the culture that they experience from morning to evening is coherent and sensible. Working toward a world that is stable and secure promotes hopefulness and courage as our young adults move beyond the community and into the larger world. It also helps each of us navigate the moments of chaos and uncertainty that inevitably occur along the way. Engaging our students in discussions and listening to their ideas both empowers them and amplifies the cross-generational bond within our community.