Incidents of violence that have taken place in the past month nationwide, both in nearby school divisions and in other public settings, have undoubtedly added a layer of unease to our already challenging work to meet the academic and behavioral needs of students in our community. I share your concerns. As Superintendent, nothing keeps me up at night more than my obligation to keep our staff and students safe in our schools, on our buses, on our fields, in our cafeterias, in our offices – everywhere, every day.
Our school division’s leadership understands and shares my urgency regarding safety. Our investments in staff, facilities, and processes since 2016 are the result of hearing feedback from our school community, asking critical and sometimes uncomfortable questions, partnering with outside organizations including our Sheriff’s Office and Fire-Rescue, and holding individuals accountable once decisions and investments are made. I am proud of our progress, but as the past few weeks demonstrate, our work in school safety can never end.
One area of progress this year is a refinement of our threat assessment protocol. Through a collaboration between our administrative staff, school psychologist staff, and law enforcement, division and school-level Behavioral Threat Assessment and Management teams are currently being trained by division staff and the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services to ensure our team composition and process are aligned with best practice. Additionally, we made the intentional decision last summer to revise our conduct expectations to ensure that our focus continues to be student academic growth and achievement, not distracting and unsafe behaviors. With the support of our Sheriff’s Office, we currently have a dedicated school resource officer in four of five schools and plan to have a dedicated school resource officer in every school by the end of this school year. I have prioritized the continued funding of our school social worker and counseling staff to ensure that we have the resources to provide support to students and families. Additionally, noticeable changes have been made to the interiors and exteriors of all school buildings to aid first responders should an unfortunate crisis occur.
None of these efforts, however, can replace our shared commitment and urgency in school safety. Something as simple as leaving a door open or not reporting a concern can have drastic consequences for our entire division, and I want the continued reputation of our school division to be centered around our team’s great work and the great work of our students, not a preventable incidence of violence.
Please be assured that it is my and the School Board’s expectation that every person in a school leadership role establishes and maintains an environment where teachers and staff feel confident to share any safety concerns openly. I know our schools are safer for both staff and for students when we all work together to address issues and take appropriate action.
My door is always open to feedback, ideas, and suggested initiatives that will ensure our safety, and I encourage you to share your thoughts so we can be proactive rather than reactive. Fixing an issue before it becomes a problem is vital to our success.
I recognize and honor our team’s work and commitment. When I began my career as a physical education teacher 26 years ago, I would have never imagined the pressures and challenges that we face in the year 2023. Still, I consider myself blessed to be in this school division with every employee, student, family member, and community member as we face and overcome those pressures and challenges together.
Yours in Service,
Jeremy J. Raley, Ed.D.