MARYSVILLE – Since the tragic shooting at Marysville-Pilchuck five years ago, the school district has made all types of security improvements to help students feel safe.
One is hiring a director of Safety and Security, Greg Dennis.
Lori Knudsen, executive director of schools, said that position was created for a number of reasons, including results of a community survey.
“We hear them and value their input,” Knudsen said of the public. “We feel that same need. It’s our top priority.”
She said there also was a division between the city and schools that needed to be repaired.
“It was a broken relationship,” Dennis said.
Knudsen said Dennis is responsible for keeping that rebuilt relationship intact.
Superintendent Jason Thompson thanked the board for adding Dennis’s position.
“A lot of schools don’t have one,” he said. “Others are adding this position. We’re ahead of the curve.”
Lundberg said he’s glad the district is investing in safety.
“The budget responded to the needs of the kids,” he said.
Director Tom Albright asked Dennis what his “elevator speech” is regarding safety.
“It’s about being proactive and prevention,” he said. “It’s about keeping bad people out.”
At an earlier school board work session and an interview this week Dennis talked about security.
He said more school personnel are being trained in emergency preparedness. A grant helped pay for trainers to come here. But they’re not just learning about how to respond to an event. “It’s a proactive approach,” Dennis said. “How do we keep this stuff from happening” It’s heavy on prevention.”
There have been safety upgrades at schools, including cameras. Dennis said cameras already have caught some criminals in the act and by arresting them it reduces other crimes. Cameras are being placed in secondary schools, followed by elementary schools.
More key cards are being used to reduce access to buildings. Students in portables have to use key cards to get into the main buildings to do things like go to the restroom.
And every school does a better job of directing visitors to its main office, he said, adding more funding has been spent on vestibules to redirect folks.
Knudsen added that by fixing up entryways, “We can redirect them and know they are there.”
Schools are doing a better job of teaching students the importance of drills.
“Drills mean a little bit more” because they are more real-life, Dennis said. “We’re more prepared now than in 2014.”
He said there are drills for more types of emergencies, such as earthquakes.
“Every school did every drill. I’ve never seen that,” Thompson said at the meeting.
The school district is working with the Marysville Police Department on active shooter training. Every school’s staff gets the training every few years. “It’s done after school with no kids,” Dennis said, adding the students would be expected to follow directions if it ever occurred.
While the district had some School Resource Officers before the M-P shooting, more have been added. There are now five – one each at M-P and Marysville Getchell, along with the three middle schools. The city and school district share costs.
SROs are involved with student threat assessment teams that look at the social and emotional parts of incidents.
Knudsen said she gets excited about partnering to get mental health help for kids because that’s been underserved in the past. She said Dennis started working with it in his first year in the position in 2018. Now the state requires all districts to work on it.
“We’re in front of the” training, she said. Dennis added, “We worked all the bugs out last year.” For students who cause problems in class, the teams come up with a safety plan for alternative learning. If a child is expelled, they try to “help that kid get back in school,” Dennis said, adding there are more counselors being added in schools all the time.
The district also has highly trained flight teams that respond to incidents, “so a school is not left by itself.” The outside support includes counselors, mental health professionals, principals, paraeducators, etc.
“And it’s not always the same flight team because they have to take care of themselves, too,” Knudsen said.
If there is an evacuation, there is a new place to meet with better access for parents to pick up their kids. It is being used as a model so similar sites could be set up in the center and north of town, also.
“It’s a pretty complicated business you’re in,” Lundberg said to Dennis.
Director Chris Nation added: “We’re going above and beyond We hear buildings are not safe, but they are as safe as can be.”