As we prepare for the excitement and anticipation of another excellent school year, I know that the recent tragedies in both El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio are on your mind. These unfortunate events prompt questions from all of us-parents, teachers, students, and everyone in our Goochland Family. Over the course of the past 18 months, we have worked aggressively to implement new security measures, train, plan, and hire new personnel to enhance safety and security across the division. We have taken 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. Please be assured that the safety and well-being of our students and our staff is, and will continue to be, a priority for school division.
I wanted to provide you with an update on the work that we have been doing this summer to make continued improvements in safety, building security, and crisis planning.
Last year, with the support of the Goochland Sheriff’s Office, we had two full time School Resource Officers at the secondary complex. Additionally, other deputies from the Sheriff’s Office made periodic, random visits to our elementary schools. This level of staffing and support from the Sheriff’s Office will continue again this year. Our School Security Officer, Mr. Shawn Schwartz, will be on the secondary campus to assist in supervision, crisis planning, and overall school security efforts. This year, in an effort to provide additional socio-emotional support to our students and our families, we have created a new position. Ms. Allison Mears will serve as our division’s Licensed Mental Health Counselor. In addition to providing direct support to students, she will serve as a resource for administrators and teachers who are seeking strategies to meet the needs of students.
Infrastructure and Capital Improvements
Last year, we made significant improvements to our facilities, including the installation of equipment that monitors door access, the installation of door position controls, re-keying all exterior locks, and installing cameras at all elementary schools. Enhancements were also made to our communication system at Goochland Middle School. In an effort to improve communication in the event of a crisis, new phones have been installed in every classroom across the division. These devices will now allow every teacher to communicate quickly with building administrators or emergency dispatchers. The installation of these devices will also provide additional features that our administrators can use if needed in an emergency.
This summer, our administrative team attended a two day training with the Department of Homeland Security. The focus of this training was on proactive planning, response during an event, and subsequent recovery. Our two school resource officers and staff from Goochland County Fire-Rescue and Emergency Services also participated in this training.
Our collaborative efforts to plan and train with our local first responders was not just isolated to this two day training. At the end of June, we worked in partnership with both the Sheriff’s Office, Fire-Rescue & Emergency Services, and the Virginia EMS Training Group to conduct exercises that simulated an active shooting event in our high school. Lessons learned from this experience will most certainly improve our proactive planning and response.
Perhaps the most important part of safety is one that does not come in the form of training, technology, or devices. A critical part of our safety and security planning is 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.
If you are not comfortable sharing this information with us, please know that you can provide us with an ANONYMOUS report. Again this year, we will continue to utilize our ANONYMOUS reporting system that will allow students, parents, citizens, and staff to report threats, bullying, or other safety concerns. Reports can be received via text message, web site, e-mail, or phone.
Additionally, we will continue training this year for our staff, our students, and our parents regarding our threat assessment process. The website for the threat assessment program for parents/guardians is www.schoolthreatassessment.com Enter the parent code to begin: pncwub
When school starts on August 19, there will be a lot more traffic on the roads compared to what we have experienced during summer break. In addition to our school buses, cars, and vans, there will be inexperienced student drivers driving to school for the first time. As you plan for your morning and afternoon commute, please be mindful of this additional traffic as well as our students who will be standing and waiting for their bus at their bus stops.
This year, we will begin to enforce the ordinance that was adopted by the Goochland County Board of Supervisors in June of this past year that permits our school division to levy a $250 fine when a motorist passes a bus while it is stopped and its red lights are flashing. We have installed cameras on the exterior and on the front windshield of buses on seven different routes to help us to enforce the laws that prevent passing our buses. The sole intent of this initiative is to keep our students safe. Please pay careful attention to our buses when you are on the road.
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 the events in El Paso and Dayton in your thoughts and prayers. 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