As a parent myself, I know what it feels like to send my children to school and trust someone else with their safety. So, as the principal of your child’s school, I thought it may be helpful to share some facts with you regarding how we ensure your child’s safety at North High. In schools, safety takes on a variety of appearances including physical safety, emotional safety, and academic safety.
Adult supervision in our building happens in a variety of forms. Most people are aware of the supervision provided in the classroom and during lunch, but I often get questions about how we monitor safety in the halls. Here are some examples:
While this gives you insight into our day-to-day safety measures, let me also take a moment to shed light on our crisis preparations. The District has a crisis management plan that outlines the protocol for all potential crisis, including lockdown and lockout drills. While we recognize that each crisis is unique, a well-established plan guides employees’ swift action and initial steps to de-escalate the crisis. In the event of a crisis, District administration collaborates with school resource officers and local law enforcement to assess the threat level and best course of action. For “high-level” threats, law enforcement directs the situation management.
While this is the protocol to respond to threats, the important work comes before a crisis ever occurs. It is the proactive work of the District that really maintains the safety of our school communities. Every Sioux City school has cameras trained on every door, even those that can't be used during the school day, plus other cameras inside and outside the buildings. All doors are secured during the day and entry is obtained through contact with the main office. Students and staff are directed to not open doors for others - known or unknown. The District also has a Sioux City Police Department officer at each high school and middle school.
In planning an appropriate response to possible danger, mock drills for various possible incidents take place during the year and some drills are planned in concert with the Sioux City Police Department, Sioux City Fire Rescue and Woodbury County Sheriff's Office. Each school also completes safety drills to help students prepare for potential crisis. Moving forward, we will communicate with you on days when those drills take place. This will allow for you to have conversations with your sons and daughters about school safety.
North High staff are proactive at fostering emotional safety for our students. Over the past five years, we have worked to develop student/staff relationships by focusing on positive behavior interventions and supports. We have also, through a grant, added mental health therapists to our school staff. We recognize that students must have a positive relationship with at least one staff member to feel emotionally safe.
We continue to offer "Mentors for Violence Prevention" as the foundation to our efforts in decreasing violence in and out of school. This effort is championed state-wide by former North High principal, Alan Heisterkamp. (Video below). In addition, we have strengthened the role of the homeroom teacher as an adviser and added student groups and activities to expand opportunities for student involvement.
Still, we recognize that there are times when students may struggle. District employees are trained to watch for warning signs. Many North High teachers have been trained in "Mental Health First Aid" to help spot early warning signs of mental health struggles. Programming and speakers have also been organized at North High to help students understand the warning signs and what to do if oneself or a peer need help. Each year, parents can also elect for their son or daughter to participate in a mental health screening (Learn more about the SDQ Assessment here). We all have a role in sustaining a safe learning environment. If parents or students see something out of the ordinary or concerning, please make a report to administration. Reports of any concerns can be made to a teacher, counselor, principal or local law enforcement officials.
Safety also applies to academic learning and the learning environment. Learning new material can be difficult and students need support when challenged mentally by rigorous work. Teachers provide students with the academic tools to challenge their thinking and push their learning. This also means that they must provide the interventions and supports to ensure that students stay positive and confident when faced with challenges and adversity in learning. For example, teacher feedback on student work is intended to reinforce the student support and promote further effort, because after all, struggling to learn is part of growing as a learner.
These are all actions that North High staff can take to ensure your child’s safety, but it can’t stop here. Together, we can do more to reinforce student safety.
Together, we need to maintain open lines of communication between students and school staff AND between parents and school staff. North High principals are at your fingertips. I recommend using Let's Talk, which has an average four hour response time. You can also send a direct message on Twitter or Facebook .
The school-home team is vital. If we want to make the most impact, we must work together. We often have parents call or schedule meetings to discuss issues facing their son or daughter at home. Together, we develop plans that support the young man or woman at home and at school. When we work together, we share the load and make gains at a higher rate.
We look forward to being your continued partner in building a strong school community where students feel safe to learn and grow.
Ryan Dumkrieger is the principal of Sioux City North High School.