WESTFIELD, Ind. -- As with most school districts in the country, one thing remains at the forefront for Westfield Washington Schools regarding school safety.
"The safety of our students is absolutely our No. 1 priority," said Dr. Sherry Grate, who is the Superintendent of Westfield Washington School District.
But what sets Westfield apart is the plan's social-emotional framework.
"We're focused on developing our children socially, emotionally, and then also academically,” Grate said.
With the district's nine schools—including one high school (Westfield High School), one middle school (Westfield Middle School), one intermediate school (Westfield Intermediate School), and six elementary schools (Carey Ridge, Maple Glen, Monon Trail, Oak Terrace, Shamrock Springs, Washington Woods)—and more than 8000 students, safety needs to be multi-dimensional.
“One thing does not ensure school safety or security, but it's really the sum of different things," Westfield Police Chief Scott Jordan said.
New this year are police substations, which are spots for officers to do normal office-related work within the schools, instead of their patrol vehicle.
"They have their normal day-to-day patrol responsibilities, but when they have a report, instead of completing it in a parking lot or on the side of the road, they're able to mark out at the school and come inside and complete that report,” Jordan said. "Instead of spending 12 hours in their car or patrolling the highways, during school hours, they’re encouraged to mark out at the school, come inside, interact with school officials, teachers, parents, and students, basically to develop that line of communication that otherwise wouldn’t exist.”
Jordan said that in the first 19 days of school, police officers visited schools around 250 times, visited substations 47 times, and put in 126 hours inside the schools.
Two more school resource officers will be added to the high school in November, bumping up the total number of resource officers in the district to four.
Teachers, students, and all staff of the schools also take part in ALICE (Alert Lockdown Inform Counter Evacuate) training and other active-assailant trainings to make sure they are prepared, should anything ever happen.
“We have been able to take each of our staff members throughout the entire school district through ALICE training. And we were able to do some of that through the summer. And then as the school year has began, we’ve been very fortunate to have professional learning time on Wednesday mornings and so our objective was that each and every one of our staff members has the opportunity to participate in in-house training, so that they can be prepared,” Grate said.
Technological advances will also be implemented into the schools.
“We did take advantage of the governor’s options to be able to apply for the metal detectors and the wands in our schools and at this time we’re actually working on what those policies and procedures would look like to be able to utilize those as another piece of our comprehensive plan,” Grate said.
For parents, it's not necessarily a fear of sending children to school, but rather, sending them out into the world, in general.
"Any time your children go out the door, whether it’s to school or to a friend’s house. Any parent, I think, you know, you could go down the path of “what-if’s”,” said Adrienne Vollmer, who has three children enrolled in Maple Glen Elementary school.
And in terms of feeling secure, Vollmer said she has no doubts in the Westfield Washington School District.
“I think the most important thing when you’re sending your kids to school is just trusting that the administration and the teachers are going to have your child’s best interest at heart, and I feel like Maple Glen is doing that,” Vollmer said.
Vollmer added that she does talk with her children (who are in pre-school, first grade, and third grade) about threats to security, to an extent.
“I certainly don’t want to scare my children, but we do talk about people who might be in the school who aren’t supposed to be in the school. Because that’s what they say when they do their drills here,” Vollmer said. “I think my kids are more focused on, when they have the drill, where are they supposed to be and what are they supposed to be doing? Really little elementary aged children, they don’t think too much about ‘Why are we doing this?’; or ‘Why would somebody be in the school that’s not supposed to be there?’; and ‘Why would somebody want to come inside the school and harm us?’ So, we have to be careful as a parent and we want to have a conversations to make sure they’re prepared, without putting too many ideas in their head that would give them fear of coming to school every day.”
Mayor Andy Cook said a program that identifies at-risk students is implemented in the community, as a whole.
“We’ve established a very community-involved program called the Westfield Youth Assistance Program and throughout Hamilton County, the Hamilton County Youth Assistance Program, which began here in Westfield some 6-7 years ago,” Cook said. “As a community we work very closely with the schools to identify children who are at risk. Meaning, ‘gosh this child might be a candidate for involvement with the legal system down the road.’ We identify those families and voluntarily ask them if they would like assistance in putting that child back on track."
Cook said the number of children entering the legal system in Hamilton County has been cut in half. He said some of those activities that those at-risk children take part in are school sports, boy scouts, mentoring, tutoring, and more.
“We’re working actively not only day by day to prevent school violence of some time, but working very heavily to identify kids that could perhaps be going off-track. And putting them back into society,” Cook said.
As far as the most important part of the school plan goes, Grate said it doesn’t necessarily come down to one factor, but rather, how it’s addressed.
“The most important part is that we are addressing it in a comprehensive way. That it isn’t just a one-size-fits-all plan for safety. And like I said our social-emotional learning framework is really the foundation for building relationships with students. So, whether that’s teachers, administrators, or even police officers building relationships with students-that’s the foundation,” Grate said.
The district hosted a Safety Input Session on June 12. Click here for an overview of the school’s plan.
The district also hosted a School Safety Symposium on July 19. You can watch the entire discussion at the following website: https://www.wws.k12.in.us/Page/1475.
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