UNcommon Sense: Safety First

by Corey Holland - Superintendent of Marlow Public Schools

Ask any parent or guardian and one of the top priorities they have for their student is safety. Of course, this is a major focus for district staff as well. For this reason, we are constantly evaluating and reevaluating our processes and procedures to ensure we are taking every reasonable step to ensure our 1,400+ students are safe. I don't feel it is wise to share our entire safety plan publicly but I do want to take an opportunity to let you know about some changes we have made with the express purpose of making our school as safe as possible for all.

The community played a big part with this effort by approving our most recent bond package. As a result, we now have a new safe room at the middle school and high school campuses. Each safe room will easily hold the site's entire student body and staff in the event of tornadic weather. Additionally, the saferooms will be available during tornadic weather to the residents who live nearby. There will be FEMA-required policies that must be followed for residents who utilize the saferooms during these times such as no pets, smoking, alcohol, etc. I will share more on this in a later article. No doubt, the safe rooms are a big step forward for our district and our safety goals.

I was able to secure a safety grant this past summer. As a part of this grant and the willingness of the city leadership/chief of police to partner with the district, Marlow Schools now has a School Resource Officer on site. Officer Branch operates under the Marlow Police Department shield but his primary duties are to be on all of our campuses during the school day. He, along with the other officers at the Marlow Police Department, do a great job of monitoring our schools every day. We are extremely lucky to have a full-time School Resource Officer as well as City Manager Jason McPherson, City Council members, and Mayor Jeff Prater who are so willing to partner with us on important issues like this. If you see any of them, please thank them for helping make this important safety position possible.

As part of the grant funds, we have begun upgrading our cameras. Many of the cameras we have monitoring our campuses are toward the end of their life span and need to be replaced. In all, we will be adding over 50 new cameras district-wide. These grant funds will be added to district building funds to develop a plan to add much-needed fencing around our middle school and high school campuses. Currently, both sites are too easily accessible. By adding new security fencing, we will be better able to restrict and monitor campus access.

These funds have also been used to mark the fire lanes at Outlaw Gymnasium. Previously these have not been clear and as a result, we have had events where if a firetruck or ambulance needed to be utilized, they very likely could not have entered the gym parking lot at all. Greater access by emergency vehicles may not sound like a big change, but in the event they are needed, time is everything, so ensuring these vehicles can arrive without interruption is vital.

Lastly, I would like to mention a new Safe School Helpline we have added. This anonymous and confidential helpline is designed so that any student or parent can report school safety concerns 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The company that monitors the helpline will transcribe the information and then send it to me and Assistant Superintendent Brenda Parker-Tillian. The purpose of the helpline is to encourage the practice "if you see something, say something." It is our desire to make it as easy as possible for our students and community to make us aware of safety concerns so that we can quickly respond. The helpline IS NOT designed to be a complaint line or a way to ask general questions about the school. It should only be used to notify us of legitimate concerns related to school or student safety.

Using the helpline for non-school safety concerns will reduce the effectiveness of the service. To utilize the helpline, you can call 800-418-6423 ext. 359 or you can text 614-426-0240 and type "TIPS" in your text. You can also visit the website at safeschoolhelpline.com to report a concern.

Lastly, you can download the "Safe School Helpline" app on your smartphone and report a concern from there. If you have a mental health emergency, the State of Oklahoma has its own hotline you can call by dialing 988. School safety is all of our responsibility. Working together, we can better ensure all students have a safe learning environment while they are at school. Safety is and will remain a primary goal for myself, the board, and our staff.

Corey Holland is Superintendent of Marlow Public Schools

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