Home > News > Tahoma staff, community work to keep safety at forefront

Tahoma staff, community work to keep safety at forefront

*Please note that in a few of the items and areas discussed here, we have been intentionally vague in order to protect student and staff safety. If you have specific concerns or questions, our principals and administrators stand ready to answer them and talk with you. 
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Keeping students and staff members safe during the school day is the Tahoma School District’s highest concern, one that school leaders know is shared by every parent and community member.

Superintendent Rob Morrow sent a letter home to families last weekend, sharing the district’s commitment to protecting students and staff and preparing for emergencies.

“I want to assure you that our schools are safe. Still, we know that there is always more to do,” Morrow wrote. “As the school district looks for ways to maintain and improve school safety, we ask for the help of our parent and community partners. We must all work together to achieve thoughtful, effective solutions. We have heard from many parents who have voiced concerns about school safety and have volunteered to help. We are grateful and thankful that we are part of a community that is willing to work collaboratively on behalf of our children.”

He will create an ad hoc safety advisory committee this spring to review the district’s safety measures and look for ways to improve. Parents and other community members will be asked to serve on the committee, which will be advertised.

Morrow and Tahoma High School Principal Terry Duty, along with other administrators, have emphasized that one vital act that students and parents can take is to always report anything suspicious or concerning. They shared the national call to action: “If you see something, say something.” In addition to calling the principal or police, parents, students and community members may use the Safe Schools Alert system, which offers the availability to report anonymously via text, email, website or phone. That information is available on each website in the “Quick Links” section on the side.

Contacts include:

The School Board asked staff to review safety and security during a meeting last week. Assistant Superintendent Lori Cloud re-shared a prior presentation that outlined steps and measures that the district and buildings have taken in recent years to improve and bolster systems and procedures. Cloud and Sean P. Kelly, who is supervisor of operations for the district, then talked with the board members about additional recent projects and efforts.

To briefly touch on efforts that have occurred since 2013, Cloud and Kelly shared:

  • The district has historically always had a Safety Committee, in varying forms. The focus has changed through the years and, after the Columbine High School shootings, shifted more toward school security and threats.
  • In 2013, efforts were added to examine systems and procedures in connection with planning for the potential bond improvements.
  • In spring of 2014, a Security and Safety Ad Hoc Committee convened to examine the construction timeline and budgeting for use of bond dollars. Scott Rose, who worked at the time for DLR Group architects and is considered an expert in the safety and security aspects of design, walked each Tahoma site, revealed weaknesses and gave suggestions for improvements.
  • Improvements planned after assessments, including two by Rose, have been completed, including changing landscaping to improve visibility, additional school fencing, upgraded lighting, upgrades to radio systems, classroom window coverings and instructions related to keeping students safe during an emergency. The capital projects team also visited other school campuses to check out their safety equipment, systems and procedures to help determine what would work best for Tahoma students, staff and community members.
  • Since then, bond dollars have paid to remodel the vestibules at buildings that needed improvements, with the exception of one building, which is in process. Additional improvements included security cameras, access control systems with keycard access, security monitoring at all schools and portables, school lockdown systems, rekeying of the district, added fencing, and playground safety. Nearly all of those projects are complete.

Yearly and ongoing efforts are numerous and include:

  • Required lockdown, fire and earthquake drills as well as the annual active shooter drill. The active shooter drill used to take place at Tahoma Junior High but is moving to the high school this year. In the active shooter drill, local law enforcement, first responders and school officials work through a scenario (which changes year to year) to eliminate the threat and save students and staff.
  • Staff are required to wear badges at all times when in district buildings. Visitors are required to wear stickers at all times when in district buildings. We ask that all parents and community members, even those who know our front office staff well, please comply with the expectation of entering through the main office and stopping to sign in and put on a brightly colored “Visitor” sticker.
  • Regular meetings of the district safety committee, which includes parents, board members, the superintendent and assistant superintendent, chief of police, fire chief, school resource officer, safety and security team members, administrators and a representative from each building.
  • Backpacks in each classroom contain trauma/first aid supplies, a class list and other items that could help minimize injuries, save lives and keep track of students and staff in an emergency.
  • School Resource Officer, whose salary is covered equally by district and city funds. Off-duty officers who are frequently at our sites, either in the parking lots in their vehicles in plain view while working on reports and paperwork, or checking in with staff and students. The district also employs safety officers.
  • Blackboard notification system: This system allows the district to communicate with parents quickly when an incident occurs. It allows phone calls, emails and text messages to be sent quickly. Parents: Please remember to update your information with the registrar at your child’s school anytime you have a change of phone number, address or email. You may also opt out of text messages if you prefer not to receive them.
  • WatchDOG program: Many Tahoma PTA and PTO groups have started this program, which brings dads, grandpas, uncles, father figures into the schools to fill several roles. They are an extra set of eyes for security, they play with kids at recess, they give high fives to kids arriving at school and leaving at the end of the day, they read aloud in class, and more. This program is beneficial in two primary ways: Added measure of security via extra eyes, and also a relationship builder providing positive male role models for students.

At the board meeting, Maple Valley Fire & Life Safety Chief Aaron Tyerman thanked the board and district for the partnership, and also addressed the audience.

“The one thing I can tell you about this school district, and I’ve lectured around the world … is we are far ahead of the curve,” Tyerman said. “Tahoma is probably one of the safest school districts in the nation.”

He emphasized the need to always continue working to improve.

“What we don’t want to do is rest on our laurels,” Tyerman said. “Our job is to continually work to see where we can make improvements.”

At the beginning of the meeting, two parents spoke during public comments, asking the board to ensure a continued, concerted effort to add additional safeguards.

Board members thanked the community and the first responders for their partnership, and asked for continuous updates via Tahoma Matters and other communication methods.

“We shouldn’t tell all our secrets, but we should update the community that it’s a continuous process,” Board member Tami Henkel said.

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