Washington County Principal Asks “What if…?” and Makes a Huge Impact on School Safety
Dr. Stacy Henson, Principal at Emma K. Doub Elementary School for Integrated Arts & Technology in Washington County, recognizes the importance of emergency preparedness for her school community. “One of the things we discussed as a staff/safety committee is that we do a lot of professional development around academics, but safety is also at the forefront of what we do daily. We wanted to come up with a way to include safety topics as daily/weekly discussion points, so it was continually part of our thought processes and learning,” Dr. Henson said.
The problem was how to plan for school safety issues? She felt she needed professional guidance. She searched for this information online and found tabletop safety exercises online at the Vermont School Safety Center, and began incorporating them into the school’s safety team drills. Dr. Henson explains, “These What if…? drills started with the thought that it would create opportunities for staff to revisit the safety plan, so that it was not just a document that we looked at the first week of school. We wanted the staff to know it (the plan) well, and be able to utilize pieces of it in the event of an emergency. However, it (drills) has transitioned into questions that pop up as actual real-life situations. We turn them into ‘What would/should you do if ____ occurred?’”
School administrators are very busy with important tasks, and often lament the lack of time for additional programs. Dr. Henson knew school safety drills were important, but how could she incorporate them into a busy schedule? She found an innovative way to do this by utilizing a tool she was already using, the weekly Smore Staff Newsletter. In each episode of the staff update, Dr. Henson utilizes a quick What if…? survey to bring safety concerns into awareness. Then, she utilizes staff responses within the regular safety team planning process.
The ”What if…?” school safety drills were designed to stimulate a conversation about school emergency preparedness. Participants read the summary of the fictional school safety incident, and answer the multiple-choice questions selecting the appropriate response for the specific emergency. Incorrect answers are just as important as correct answers, because they indicate to the safety team where additional training is necessary.
This innovative approach assists all school staff with planning for a variety of emergencies at their campus. As the school creates drill exercises, they create a collection of forms which can be utilized by other schools. Many of the drills are generic ones she has downloaded from online resources such as MCSS or REMSTA. Dr. Henson also had the Safety Committee create very specific scenarios for her school, which are noted accordingly.
Dr. David Sovine, Superintendent of Washington County Schools, took notice of Dr. Henson’s initiative along with Jeffrey Proulx, Chief Operating Officer. Washington County Public Schools recognized Dr. Henson for her implementation of the “What if…?” program encouraging other Washington County schools to incorporate the program and school safety drills into their regular practices.
“The What if…? program is a fantastic example of how our administrators continue to think outside the box to create opportunities for additional learning for staff, as well as students,” Mr. Proulx said. “School safety is an extremely important matter and must continually be brought to the forefront. I applaud Dr. Henson’s commitment to keeping her students and staff safe through this initiative.”
Dr. Henson’s “What if…?” program was also recognized by MCSS Director Kate Bryan. She made a visit to the Hagerstown school to learn more about it and how to incorporate this program within other Maryland schools. MCSS has also committed extensive resources in creating a series of short tabletop exercises as part of a program for school safety teams to utilize titled “Are We Ready?”
Mr. Proulx says, “This initiative is like anything else, you have to make the time. Continually safety training has to be the cornerstone of school safety programs,” he continues, “We can’t just do a tabletop exercise on a training day and think that staff are ready for whatever may happen. Only through regular training, drills and discussions, will staff be prepared for any emergency situation.”
Superintendent Sovine says, “The What if…? initiative represents a thoughtful and creative approach to keeping “best practice” protocols at the forefront of teachers’, staff, and students’ minds in effort to keep our school environments safe.” He continues, “Dr. Henson’s innovative approach to promoting safety preparedness has not only enhanced student safety at Emma K. Doub Elementary, but has been lifted up as an exemplary model by our district leadership team for promoting safety awareness throughout Washington County Public Schools.”
In addition to MCSS tabletop exercises, you can also find additional tabletops on the Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools website.