Thoughts from the Superintendent- Student Safety

I’ve thought about starting to post “Thoughts from the Superintendent” for a long time but have been hesitant for several reasons.  While I’ve been hesitant, I finally decided I just need to try it for awhile and then evaluate!  Let me know what you think – you can e-mail me at with comments or questions!

Providing a safe and orderly learning environment is always important but lately it has taken a high priority in our work.  This has been because of several situations – there was the tragedy in Oregon at the college campus last week and again yesterday in Arizona, and then Anamosa’s recent challenges in communicating with parents during a lock-in.  It seemed like a good time to remind our parents and community about some of the things we have in place.

First, we take safety seriously.  We review our playgrounds, parking lots and other areas to make sure the areas are safe for our students, our staff and others.  We consider how schedules can be designed to provide for a safe and orderly environment.  Our bus routes are created to have as few turn-arounds as possible and as many right-hand turns (versus left-hand) as possible.  Our food service staff are trained on safe food handling techniques and do many temperature checks each day (and weekend) to make sure our food is safe.  Our custodians use chemicals and procedures that allow for cleanliness but also provide keeping our kids free from exposure of harmful elements.  There are very few decisions that don’t include the question, “Is this safe?”

Second, we have created safety plans.  These plans include how we would respond if someone has a medical emergency, fire, tornado and other situations that are fairly “typical”.  It also includes plans for situations that weren’t part of the plan several years ago – suspicious intruder, hostile invader, bomb threats, etc.  We do not share all of the plans with students, parents or community members.  We believe we need to keep some of the information more private in order to provide for our students’ and staffs’ safety in the event of an emergency.  We ask the question, “What could go wrong?” and then, “How can we be prepared?”

Third, we practice our response to emergencies.  Everyone has done fire drills and tornado drills for years and these drills are required by law.  We can evacuate buildings during our fire drills in about 1-2 minutes.  Most of our staff have had ALICE training (alert, lockdown, inform, counter, evacuate) and several of our principals are certified ALICE instructors.  Because we are within a certain radius of the Palo Nuclear Center, we are part of area-wide practice drills in the event they would have an emergency situation.  We ask the questions, “What would we do?” and “Are we prepared?”

Fourth, we partner with other agencies.  Benton County Sheriff Department, Vinton Police, Shellsburg Police, North Benton Ambulance, local fire departments, first responders, and others have all been included in the development of our safety plans and all are included as a part of our response in emergency situations.  Our philosophy is that if something goes wrong, they would be involved so we want them involved in the preparation and planning.  They have all given generously of their time and attention to preparing for our students’ safety.  We ask the question, “Who has the knowledge and expertise to assist?”

Finally, we consider how we can best communicate with others.  This comes from the safety plans in each building.  There are signs posted in most rooms and areas that show how to respond in the event of a fire or tornado alarm.  We purchased software that we use to notify parents in emergency situations and our message and process would be similar to what we use with weather-related announcements – we would share what the situation is and how parents can respond.  We answer questions from parents and the community – although we refrain from sharing some of the specific details.

Do you have questions?  Please ask!  We want our parents to be comfortable and confident that we are providing a safe and orderly learning environment for their children.


Mary Jo Hainstock