Message from Superintendent of Templeton Unified School District
Letter from Superintendent Joe Koski
“Safety is our top priority.” As the Superintendent of Templeton Unified School District, I have made this statement countless times to multiple audiences. Each utterance is as sincere as the first. Student and staff safety truly is my most important job and primary focus. This makes it all the more difficult to monitor news headlines frequently dealing with tragedies carried out on school campuses and other public spaces. No worries, I won’t use this forum to advocate for either side of the gun rights issue. I leave that to individuals with more knowledge and experience than I. Rather, I am devoting this article to updating the community on the District’s efforts to increase training and the effectiveness of our response to any number of emergencies that could strike during the course of school operations.
Less than two years ago, I was forced to recognize that our safety handbooks, staff workshops and regularly scheduled drills left us ill-prepared for an actual emergency occurring in real time. On that occasion, Templeton High School received a phone call warning of an explosive device on campus. School site staff correctly alerted 9-1-1 and implemented our emergency protocols by evacuating all buildings sending students and school personnel to the football stadium. Fortunately, this call turned out to be a hoax and nobody was injured; however, the event played out in a less than seamless and efficient manner.
What we failed to account for was the speed with which social media triggered a natural response from parents who descended on the campus arriving approximately 8 minutes after the phone call was received and only moments after the first emergency responders arrived. What ensued can only be described as barely avoided chaos. Parents congregated in and choked off the same roadway that partner emergency agencies needed to access the campus and to join the Incident Command Center. Our protocols covered safely supervising students until they could return to class, but we lacked an effective manner to communicate with parents in an outdoor setting or to organize them for efficient reunification with their loved ones. Lacking definitive direction from school personnel, parents paced nervously or congregated in small groups waiting for sporadic communication regarding next steps. After two hours of angst and frustration, most students and families had exited the campus leaving school personnel to conduct an after action review in order to improve outcomes in the future. Not shying away from our need to improve our practices in the future, TUSD solicited feedback from the community and experts in the field. Since this incident we have been actively engaged in the beginnings of a total overhaul of our procedures.
One of the first actions was successfully securing a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) for a team of employees to attend a week-long training at their National Academy in Maryland. The team established multiple evacuation routes and staging areas at every campus designed to fit the unique conditions for multiple emergency situations. The team determined that is was important to establish a communication center and parent reunification area anywhere in the community. Through a grant from the Templeton Education Foundation (TEF), TUSD purchased and outfitted a mobile emergency trailer. The trailer has been outfitted with bullhorns, colored vests for emergency personnel, tables, signs, medical supplies and emergency equipment. Protocols now include a two-stage parent reunification area allowing improved traffic flow and concrete methods for measuring progress through the process. School personnel were trained to leverage the school messenger system in order to rapidly and efficiently communicate details about the nature of the emergency and to direct people to the proper location for reunification. Random, unannounced drills were implemented with formal follow-up procedures to establish a culture of continued improvement over time. Differentiated responses were invoked to cover “lockdown” versus “shelter in place” situations. The “Run, Hide, Fight” active shooter protocol was identified and is being consistently communicated across our system. I am proud to convey that TUSD is much more prepared than we have been in the past.
That being said, there is no way to guarantee that an emergency won’t strike our community. If a regrettable incident ever occurs, we encourage members of the community to support us by adhering to the following advice from experts in the field:
• Encourage students to stay off their cell phones and to focus on the directions of trained personnel nearest to them
• Do not accept or propagate stories circulating on social media
• Stay away from the location of the emergency until notified by authorized personnel regarding reunification procedures
• Update your cellphone and email addresses whenever they change
• Monitor the school messenger system. School personnel will provide transparent and factual information as it becomes known.
“Safety is our top priority.” This statement is more true than ever; however, it takes training and cooperation from all of us if we are going to protect our most precious resources: students and staff.