The safety of our students is of utmost importance, and I am writing this letter to inform you about the recent history and development of our campus-safety protocols. Initially, I would like to introduce myself to the parents and guardians that I have not personally met.
When I retired as Captain and second-in-command of the Avon Police Department and joined the Avon Old Farms teaching faculty in 2011, part of my responsibilities entailed the development of a comprehensive campus-safety program in coordination with the Avon PD. Meeting this responsibility was something I was uniquely qualified for not only because of my connections to the Avon PD but also because of my role in developing one of the first standardized school safety plans in Connecticut following my graduation in 2006 from the leadership program at the FBI National Academy in Quantico, Virginia.
In 2006, Avon Old Farms established an Emergency Response Team which consists of select members of the administration, faculty, and staff who represent critical operational areas. The ERT members meet regularly to review and discuss procedures, training, technology, and trends in school safety. Appropriately, the ERT has devised the following mission statement:
“To provide increased security and safety for the residents of the Avon Old Farms School, without significantly impacting the daily freedom of the campus environment. To ensure a safe environment by developing a flexible plan that can be applied to a variety of emergency situations, including school violence, hazardous incidents and/or weather events. This strategy will be both proactive and reactive in design and will address the overall safety of the campus community in partnership with the Avon Police Department.”
Preparation is central to campus safety, and by using our campus-wide alert system, Avon Old Farms has conducted quarterly lockdown drills, both announced and unannounced, to reinforce the procedures and responsibilities of the students and staff; each drill has been conducted under the observation of trained Avon police officers and the Avon Old Farms Emergency Response Team. I personally take time at Morning Meeting to disseminate the feedback following these drills to the students and school community, and over the years this has helped create a strong, informed culture of safety. Since our campus environment poses several challenges that a traditional high school does not face, I focus on three keywords in my presentations about campus-safety: Community, Awareness and Responsibility. On an open campus like ours, it is paramount that our students, faculty, and staff are aware of and understand the importance of their own individual responsibility to both prevent and respond to a potential critical incident.
In addition to creating and sustaining a culture of safety on campus, we have strengthened the security of our campus by adding appropriate personnel, technology, communication systems, and training. In the last year alone, the following measures have been taken:
- John Tollis, a retired Connecticut State Trooper experienced in investigations and critical incident response was appointed full-time Coordinator of School Safety
- The Everbridge Mass Notification System was implemented; this web-based system allows for “real-time” two-way communication with all of the members of our school community during a critical incident
- The existing electronic-lock access system on the dormitories was expanded to include the Ordway Science Building, the Aron Academic Center, and the Baxter Library.
- The Avon Old Farms Emergency Response Team actively participates in the National Incident Management System Training (NIMS). This web-based training curriculum is administered by the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA). The training program supports safety by familiarizing school personnel with the Incident Command System as it is applied to campus incidents and interaction with emergency responders.
- Avon Old Farms was one of the founding members and continues to a leader with the Regional Independent School Safety Committee (RISSC) which is composed of twenty-six preparatory schools in New England and New York. The mission of this organization is to develop safety procedures, identify best practices, share information and provide training for the membership.
Campus-safety will continue to be a priority at Avon Old Farms as we always want to be prepared to protect our school community. We have been diligent in developing a comprehensive campus-safety program, and we pledge our ongoing diligence in keeping our campus secure and safe.