Along with all of the joy of being the principal at McMath also comes all of the anxiety of being responsible for the safety of every person in our school. Every time a tragedy strikes a school, it makes me very aware of how vulnerable all of us are in our everyday life. And it makes me pause and reflect on what we can do to protect our students and staff. I'm not sure how well we have communicated what we do at McMath to try to prevent bad things from happening on campus. So bear with me as I ramble through this...I wanted to get this out as quickly as possible so it is not going to be well organized or edited....and I bet that doesn't matter to you either.
We are constantly working on a school safety plan...we have drills for everything we can imagine (and hope that the training will help us in situations we cannot imagine). Your students may have told you that we had a lockdown drill two weeks ago and we have one scheduled in January. During the drills we teach the students how to get to the safest place as quickly as possible and how to follow the teachers directions. It would be too upsetting to the students to "over do" the practices...so we train the staff extensively and then teach the students to follow the directions from the adults in the school. How can you help? Teach your children to listen and follow directions immediately....the only way to handle hundreds of children in a crisis is to have them remain calm and follow the directions given by the adults in charge who know the emergency plan. On Tiger Day when we do the reverse evacuation drill, help us herd kids into the building...we do that drill on Tiger Day because we believe if we can get everyone in and to the designated classroom on the happiest day of the year, we can get them in on a terrible day....be it weather or other danger.
Keeping the school safe means that we have a seemingly endless list of rules and practices that at times do not appear to be a safety thing. For example, dress code is primarily a safety concern....baggy clothing, hoodies, hats, etc can prevent us from identifying a stranger and can provide a way to hide things that do not belong in schools. We ask that you do not park on the driveway in front of the school....not only is a fire lane but we don't want unidentified vehicles that close to the building. We are obsessive about keeping all doors locked...even if it makes it inconvenient for people to get into the building at times. No one, not even parents, can go to visit classrooms without making prior arrangements. That way we avoid visits that might be emotionally charged. Everyone signs in...even if you are our most beloved PTA mom you will sign in and will not be allowed unlimited access to the building. If someone comes in obliviously upset, we are not going to allow a meeting with a staff member at that time. We will handle the concern in the office and schedule a conference for a later time.
Our students all know the expectations regarding treating everyone with compassion and kindness. They know that they must tell an adult if anyone is bothering them. We don't allow gang-like behaviors in school so we are very aware of what they are writing and wearing. You can help us by letting us know if you are concerned about any child...and PLEASE monitor your child's internet use.
I believe that our best defense is the presence of the School Resource Officer on campus. His primary job is to maintain a safe and civil environment. This is a large expense on the part of the Denton Police Department and we need to support and appreciate their commitment to the schools. We have had some potentially volatile situations averted because of Officer Howell, and the SROs before him.
We are very grateful for our new safer entry, thank you for voting for the bond money that paid for that improvement. We also have security cameras in the school that have been very helpful in preventing and solving problems, We are in the process of trying to add more cameras (they are about $2,000 dollars each)...so thank you for buying cookie dough because that is where we will likely get the money to make this purchase.
So, what do you say to your child if they are asking about school shootings? I think you tell them that terrible things happen everyday and we just need to do what we can do to be prepared for emergencies....and then go on with life. Reassure them that the adults in their world are doing everything we can to protect and take care of them. Remind them to tell an adult if they ever see or hear anything that just seems odd to them. Tell them that the odds of something like a shooting are actually very small but that we are prepared anyway.
The counselors will be "hanging out" around the school on Monday, like they do everyday...they are in the halls and cafeteria daily to make it easy for the kids to find them. If you would like to talk with a counselor or anyone at McMath, call us. (369-3300)