Yesterday’s tragedy in a Parkland, Florida high school is surely prompting questions from all of us-parents, teachers, students, and everyone in our Goochland Family. In Goochland we talk regularly about the strength of our community, our support of each other in times of success and times of challenge, and the value we place on providing our students, the children of this community, a safe and inviting space to learn every day. We take measures at every level to ensure that our students are safe and that we are able to respond in the event of an incident that threatens our safety, whether from natural causes due to weather, threats made electronically, or an incident of violence inside our schools or on our campuses. These incidents can happen anywhere. This nation’s most notable active shooter incidents in the United States-Columbine, Colorado, Newtown, Connecticut, and now Parkland, Florida-took place in high performing schools within upper middle class communities. No one can assume that they are immune to school violence.
The safety and well-being of our students and our staff is, and will continue to be, a priority for our school division. We prepare for a variety of incidents in our schools on a regular basis in Goochland County, and we have maintained and supplemented technology in our buildings to assist in security. You are likely familiar with our monthly fire drills, semi-annual tornado drills, and our annual earthquake drill. You may be less familiar with our drills that we practice in the event that we are faced with a situation involving an active shooter, which take place twice a year. Our active shooter drill procedures involve reducing exposure to our students and staff if we are ever faced with a situation like this. The Goochland Sheriff’s Office supports us regularly, both in the administration of training and through the daily presence of our dedicated Goochland High School Resource Officer, Ryan Leabough. We worked last spring with the Sheriff’s Office to conduct simulation “tabletop” exercises with school and division leadership to walk through potential scenarios to inform our practice. These exercises have guided us in targeting training for specific personnel, such as our clerical staff at our schools who are charged with monitoring entry and exit traffic at our buildings. We will conduct these tabletop exercises again this spring.
Just two weeks ago, I was joined by staff at all of our schools to conduct unannounced safety visits. During these checks, we evaluated interior and exterior door security, wearing of badges by all staff, and visibility into classrooms. Last year we installed devices on doors at our secondary complex that will allow us to quickly lock and secure our classroom doors if ever needed. Seconds can make a huge difference in an actual event. Since fire code prevents these devices from being installed in our older elementary schools, we require that door handles are in the locked position during instruction at our elementary schools.
In September, GCPS sent a team of staff to the Department of Criminal Justice Services Threat Assessment training, to update our threat assessment protocol to align with law enforcement standards. We implement a threat assessment process in the event of threatening language received verbally, electronically, or otherwise to evaluate the threat and provide action depending on the nature of the situation.
As of last year, all of our schools are equipped with monitored entry systems that are controlled by school staff. We upgraded those systems recently at both Byrd and Randolph. This summer we will prepare to install key card access to all of our buildings as a capital improvement project. This will allow for increased control and monitoring of access to our facilities. In our transportation department, we have installed camera systems on all buses in the past year, and we hope to have active GPS tracking operational in the Fall. We also recently supplemented the existing surveillance cameras at the middle/high complex, and completed installation of the Informacast system at elementary schools, which allows for central control of public address and bell functions from remote locations. This system is currently being expanded to the middle/high complex this summer.
Perhaps the most important part of safety is one that does not come in the form of training, technology, or devices: the relationships that our staff have with our students and their families. For every tragedy that has taken place in America’s schools, hundreds more have surely been prevented because of staff members who are committed to knowing students and showing they care. Having a culture of support in our division, a culture in which our students and families know that they can reach out to us with any concern, is one of our most effective measures to ensure safety. Please discuss with your child the importance of telling an adult if they ever feel threatened, witness threatening behavior, or have any concern about safety for themselves or others. We are always available to respond. Please also know that we welcome reports from parents and community members as well. Call our school counselors or principals at any time if you have any concerns.
I know, as a parent and as an educator, that no list of processes, cameras, or devices is ever enough to make us 100 percent confident that we will always be able to avoid the threat of school violence. It would be unwise to ever assume that our safety is 100% guaranteed-we must always work to adapt and to prepare for the worst, no matter how great our division is. Please continue to keep the families that have been affected by this terrible tragedy in Parkland, Florida in your thoughts and prayers, and take the time to talk to your child about it as you feel is best for your family. Thank you, as always, for what you do to support our students and our amazing school division.
Jeremy Raley, Superintendent