When it comes to ensuring the safety of a community of thousands of students, teachers, staff and administrators, the Cherry Creek School District has an "all-hands-on-deck" approach.
The district's approach to security is ever-evolving, and its crew of trained and experienced specialists work constantly to improve and expand safety measures for the entire community. This work includes regular rounds of coordinated emergency drills in buildings across the district; it integrates input and aid from police departments, sheriff's offices and fire departments from multiple municipalities. Mental health is also a key part of the approach, as is the assumption that the status quo is never acceptable.
"We constantly re-evaluate our plans and procedures," said Randy Councell, the district's director of safety and security. The official district policy employs a REMS (Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools) system, as well as Emergency Response and Crisis Management procedures, Councell said. "There is always something new to learn."
That much is clear as the CCSD community settles into the 2017-18 school year. Over the summer, district leaders worked closely with the local law enforcement representatives and safety specialists on the district's Standard Response Protocol Group to implement new policies to supplement an already thorough safety and security policy.
"We focus both on physical and psychological safety at CCSD," said Deputy Superintendent Scott Siegfried. "Safety is our number-one priority. If students and staff aren't physically and psychologically safe, we can't expect them to focus on learning."
These new steps include creating a common numbering system for doors and parking lots and installing dedicated police "Knox Boxes" and lockers at every building. The "Knox Boxes" are located on the outside of the building and include keys, maps and other resources for law enforcement officials responding to an emergency. What's more, this year will see a series of training exercises with law enforcement officials, including simulations on school buses and in district buildings.
The work supplements a comprehensive security policy that's always expanding and evolving, one supported by a specialized staff of security guards, Student Resource Officers and other experts. The CCSD security team comprises special investigators and safety specialists; every building in CCSD hosts professionals whose constant focus is the well-being of every student and staff member.
What's more, over the past several years, the district has worked directly with police departments, sheriff's departments and fire departments from across the district's 108 square miles to create a more streamlined and effective protocol for handling emergencies.
The work has come within the district as well, from the development of a state-of-the-art Emergency Operations Center at district headquarters in Greenwood Village to the installation of updated cameras, communication systems and building materials at schools across eight municipalities. Funds from the 2012 and 2016 bond measures have helped supplement the safety infrastructure in the district, funding everything from new cameras to secure windows.
All of these physical measures are complemented by the district's dedication to mental health. Ensuring students' social emotional well-being is a priority in the district, and creating and maintaining welcoming environments is a critical piece of CCSD's overall approach to safety.
"This is a district that really supports mental health," said Ron Lee, CCSD's mental health director, pointing to the crew of psychologists, social workers and mental health professionals who work in every CCSD building. "We're big on getting early warning signs out to all staff, and we're focused on the climate and culture of all of our buildings."
An important part of that culture is rooted in the responsibility of every CCSD employee to take an active role in making the district safe and secure. Through resources like the district's Care Line, a 24-hour phone line (720-554-2273) and email address (email@example.com) where concerns about safety/threatening/dangerous situations can be reported by students, parents, or school staff, every member of the CCSD community has a way to have their voice heard.
According to Councell, individual voices can play a critical role in the district's approach to safety.
"Who's responsible when it comes to school safety? The answer is everybody," Councell said. "If you have a concern that's raising red flags, you need to bring it to someone's attention. Every employee in this district is responsible for safety. This is all of us."