Kids have left for their four day weekend, the halls are quiet, and I have time to share some thoughts with you, our valuable parent partners. Today's world can be a scary place, especially if we spend more than a few minutes watching the news. And it seems that just as soon as our hearts settle down after an incident of school violence, yet another report is breaking into the night's regularly scheduled programs. Worried and concerned parents have asked me, "What are you doing to keep our children safe at school?" Great question! Having met again with our safety committee and thoroughly discussing what we have done, are doing, and are planning to do, let me answer that question.
When I was asked this question at our most recent University School Foundation meeting, I left off the most important thing we have going for us, so let me start there. While there are many procedures which can be put into place as well as changes to our physical surroundings, the most important thing our school has is a culture of caring; genuine love and concern for each other. In almost all incidents of violence in schools, a common theme among those sharing is that they were worried about the individual who was responsible for the act because of what the individual said, or posted on social media, or because of changed behavior; but nothing was said.
Here at University school we build relationships with our students so they learn to trust us and we encourage our students to share; to say something if they are concerned about a fellow student and they have responded. Students have received the help they needed because others cared and shared their concerns with our counselors, teachers, staff or administration. We also have a staff that is very mindful and attentive to changes in students' behavior, in attitude, in work production, and how they respond socially. Again, many students have received the help they needed because our teachers and students care deeply and shared their concerns with administration, teachers and counselors. Relationships are at the center of what we do here at University School and we are blessed to have that and the corresponding feeling of safety that comes with that. Relationships being the key to a safe campus, there are other more concrete things that can be done to ensure the safety of all who attend University School.
Prior to my coming here, a buzzer system was put in the main entry doorway, allowing us to screen who is asking to come in before opening the doors for them. All other outside doors remain locked during the school day, most of them with no outside handles, allowing only exit from the inside if a student has a class in the Learning Cottages or at ETSU. There are sensors on those outside doors that let Public Safety know if they are not secured properly. Our faculty and staff throughout the building pay attention and notify the office if they notice a stranger in the building who doesn't wear the proper visitor pass or ID. This doesn't happen often, but we are always watching. We have Officer Hudson patrolling around the building as well, interacting positively with our students while keeping a watchful eye on the surroundings.
A School Safety plan is in place with procedures in case of fire, bomb threat, severe weather, earthquakes, and intruders to our campus. We practice these procedures with regular drills and are always looking for ways to improve on the plans. We are currently finalizing our Family Reunification plans in the event that we evacuate the building and will not be re-entering the building. And this week we have made available on the school's website an anonymous web-based reporting form that allows anyone to report anything they find concerning. These are things we have done and are doing. Let me now share some things we are planning, as well as some things we would like to do.
We will soon be joining Washington County and Johnson City schools in having all visitors and volunteers scan in their IDs. This will provide one more added layer of security for our staff and students. And though our nurturing positive relationships is a strength of University School, we are looking into a curriculum for staff and students that was developed following the Sandy Hook shooting entitled "Say Something." This same group provides a national anonymous hotline where anyone can call in or go online to report information with a guarantee the reported information will be shared with school personnel within minutes. We are also working with the College of Psychiatry to again help us secure a psychiatrist who will have office hours at University School. Finally we will be scheduling time to speak with our middle and high school students to discuss how school safety is the responsibility of each of us.
Finally, there are things we are considering but that come with a higher cost. These include 15-18 security cameras monitored by ETSU Public Safety (approx. $100,000 for the first year then $4,000 per year), protective film on all windows on first floor, replace deteriorating exterior doors and frames ($6-8,000 per double door), replace our intercom system, and having our check-in window prior to the buzzer doors.
Through the years, parents and alumni have asked how they can help University School financially. To those who have already made this inquiry and those asking now, donations to meet our safety needs can be made through ETSU Advancement with funds designated to University School Foundation. Thank you in advance for considering this way of supporting University School.
Because of each of you, in partnership with our staff, we have a great thing going
here at University School. Thank you for your part in the past and as we move forward.
Thanks as always,
Dr. Troy Knechtel
Director- University School
PO Box 70632
Johnson City, TN 37614
(423) 439-6937 Office
"Every student valued, challenged, and successful...whatever it takes"