Waco-area schools keep up security work as state eyes options in wake of Uvalde shooting | Education | wacotrib.com

2022-07-02 08:24:11 By : Mr. kevin NI

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David Wrzesinski, Robinson ISD’s safety coordinator, said training, physical security and strategies for keeping students engaged are key parts of the district’s approach.

Officials at McLennan County school districts large and small are watching the work of state legislative committees, hoping debates among lawmakers in the wake of the Robb Elementary School shooting last month in Uvalde yield more funding for the range of school safety initiatives districts have been developing for years.

The range of initiatives in local school districts includes engaging one-on-one with students to help them feel like part of a community, investing in physical security at school buildings, and training students and employees in basic emergency medical techniques. Superintendents and security experts say there is plenty of room to expand ongoing efforts and add new approaches to keep students safe.

Since an 18-year-old shooter killed 19 children and two adults May 24 in Uvalde before a Border Patrol team killed him, Texas House and Senate select committees have been working on proposals for improving school security and investigations of the Uvalde shooting. Proposals have included mental health measures as well as funding for ballistic shields for law enforcement in schools and training for school districts and law enforcement.

“It’s not yet clear what funding and other resources school districts will be able to access directly and what will go to or through other entities, like fusion centers and the Texas School Safety Center,” Waco Independent School District Superintendent Susan Kincannon said.

While school districts await greater clarity on what the state will do, they are continuing their own efforts to make their schools as safe as possible.

In Robinson ISD, a district with five schools and about 2,400 students, David Wrzesinski’s sole role has been as district safety coordinator for about six years.

“Before that, my position had other duties as well,” Wrzesinski said.

Robinson is one of the few districts in the region to have one person heading up all aspects of school safety with no other duties, he said. His responsibilities include leading a threat assessment committee that reviews the files of students who could become violent.

“I’m not part of the discipline process or the academic process,” Wrzesinski said. “So when we find a kid who’s kind of an outcast, who doesn’t fit in, who might be troubled, we work with the school counselors to turn them back onto a constructive path.”

David Wrzesinski, Robinson ISD’s safety coordinator, scans his badge to gain access to Robinson High School.

He said one of the joys of his job is to see students in college, and with career goals, who were identified as troubled in junior high.

“We try to put these kids with at least one adult who cares about them, who they can trust, get them involved in activities and turn them around,” Wrzesinski said.

He works to bring such students into the fold and make them a part of the community.

“We try to help them find hope for their future,” he said.

Training the district’s employees and students to respond in the event of an active shooter is also a big part of his job.

“In Robinson ISD, we train all students seventh grade and above as well as all teachers, coaches, administrators, substitutes, bus drivers and even cafeteria workers in Stop the Bleed,” Wrzesinski said.

Stop the Bleed training teaches people to apply tourniquets and other ways of treating traumatic injuries.

“In a lot of these violent incidents, people are hurt, but the first responders can’t get inside to help them,” he said. “So, in our district we put Stop the Bleed kits in every room and hallway and we train everyone to save a life.”

Wrzesinski also said that the district approved a school marshal program.

“We have people trained by the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement on every campus who concealed-carry handguns,” he said. “Not many teachers, we want them focused on teaching, but administrators and others.”

Every month, school marshals train with each other, with Robinson Police Department and other local agencies, he said. Wrzesinski wants his marshals trained to move toward the subject and prepared to respond in the event of an active shooter.

“First we stop the killing, then we stop the dying,” he said.

He also said many district buildings have security vestibules at the only entrance open during school hours.

“That way, we have two sets of doors with buzzers, that people have to go through to get inside,” Wrzesinski said. “They have to show ID and explain why they belong. And our people get a chance to look at them, see if they have weapons.”

School employees are also trained to politely confront anyone who does not look like they belong and does not have a badge or sticker with their name, he said. And he brings outside people in to test his schools on just this, from time to time.

He regularly updates campus threat assessments, response plans and training programs.

“We don’t want to wait until a crisis happens, to learn how to respond,” Wrzesinski said.

David Wrzesinski, Robinson ISD's safety coordinator, walks past lifesaving devices in Robinson High School.

Kincannon said leaders in her district, the county’s largest with 29 schools and more than 14,000 students, think about school security in three categories: preventing potential threats, detecting and disrupting potential threats and being prepared to respond effectively to active threats.

“The cornerstone of our prevention strategy is fostering a strong sense of belonging for our students that includes positive relationships between students and staff,” Kincannon said. “This allows us to recognize when a student may be in crisis and to intervene early with additional support.”

The district has a trained threat assessment team on each campus, she said. This past school year, Waco ISD used federal stimulus funds to add a district-level threat assessment specialist to support the campus teams’ work as well as two social emotional learning coordinators.

“One of the primary ways that we detect and disrupt potential threats is by giving our students an easy and anonymous way to report their concerns,” Kincannon said.

Parents, employees and others also can report concerns anonymously at wacoisd.org/stopit.

To disrupt potential threats, the district controls access to all campuses, she said.

“All doors remain locked during the school day,” Kincannon said.

In recent years, the district added a camera and buzzer system at the main entrance to all district facilities, as well as card readers and security vestibules, she said.

“Active monitoring of campuses by Waco ISD police officers and security guards is another part of this strategy,” Kincannon said.

To respond to active threats, the district conducts extensive training and, in addition to Waco ISD police, collaborates with other local law enforcement agencies. Employees and students are trained to stop bleeding from traumatic wounds using Stop the Bleed kits on each campus. She also said threat assessments and response plans are updated every third year, or more often.

Midway Superintendent George Kazanas said his district, with 11 schools and about 8,400 students, uses a multi-faceted, multi-layered approach in developing its safety and security plans to prepare for and mitigate potential crisis situations.

“We significantly invest in secure facilities, equipment, security audits, school resources officers and crisis training,” Kazanas said. “We also proactively invest in students’ mental health and character development.”

Midway teachers and administrators assist students in learning how to respond to adversity through trauma-informed training, restorative discipline techniques, character education programs, social work intervention and partnerships with community support groups, Kazanas said.

“At this point, we have not seen any financial assistance as a result of committee meetings at the state level,” he said. “We do hope additional funding will be allotted for such things as more school resource officers, counselors and other support providers like social workers, mentors and behavior interventionists.”

Kazanas said his district needs help beyond equipment in addressing the exponential growth of issues and needs affecting students.

“Family situations, financial hardships, loss and grief, online behaviors, substance abuse and damaged relationships are abundant,” he said.

The district needs more money for this intensive work, Kazanas said.

“This support would not only increase safety, but also aid in our goal of teaching the whole child,” he said.

Mart Superintendent Betsy Burnett said her district, with two schools and 530 students, will add metal detectors on both campuses before the next school year.

“We will also be holding a districtwide active shooter training,” Burnett said. “We have participated in this training several times before, but we feel that it is necessary to do a refresher often so that our plans and training are always current.”

Mart has a new high school with modern security features, and the district retrofitted many of the same features into the elementary school, including magnetic locks for doors, perimeter fences and security door jamb sticks for each classroom, she said.

“We have implemented a guardian program where there are armed staff members on both campuses,” Burnett said. “These staff members go through extensive training each year.”

Mart ISD has also added a social worker to help with mental health needs, and a nurse practitioner to provide health care, she said.

Burnet said her district continually learns new strategies to implement to ensure safety and security of students and staff.

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Christopher De Los Santos is a U.S. Army veteran with a master’s degree in journalism from The University of Texas. He previously worked at the Williamson County Sun in Georgetown.

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David Wrzesinski, Robinson ISD’s safety coordinator, said training, physical security and strategies for keeping students engaged are key parts of the district’s approach.

David Wrzesinski, Robinson ISD’s safety coordinator, scans his badge to gain access to Robinson High School.

David Wrzesinski, Robinson ISD's safety coordinator, walks past lifesaving devices in Robinson High School.

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