The library of Blanco High School was packed at Monday night’s BISD trustees’ meeting, not just with parents of Blanco Middle School UIL champions being honored, but with parents of elementary school students seeking answers about the safety of their children at school in the wake of the Newtown, Connecticut, shootings. An Update on District Safety Plans and Procedures was already scheduled, at which time Superintendent Dr. Buck Ford and principals from each campus explained their procedures.
Stephen Myers, parent of a kindergarten student, called the Sandy Hook shootings “a wake-up call that we need to heed” and called the schools of Blanco “a prime target for someone to copycat.”
“Our kids and our teachers are our most precious assets,” he continued, “and I want to be part of this discussion.” His solution to the perceived danger is paid, armed personnel at each school. “If someone walked in tomorrow, what would happen?” was his question and the question of all present.
President Matt Herden responded that a meeting has been held with first responders—the new Blanco Police Chief Michael Ritchey, county police, and EMS—but that the district does not see arming teachers as an appropriate reaction.
Austin police officer Joseph Hernandez, parent of two elementary students, cautioned trustees that it takes a lot of training for an individual to respond to a threat, and that the responsibility of teachers should be to take care of their students, not fire at intruders. He said there are enough trained police personnel available, himself included, to step up and provide security for the district. He cautioned against what he called a “kneejerk” reaction, as did Matt Herden, discounting the suggestion of Lt. Governor David Dewhurst that all teachers should be armed.
Dr. Ford read a policy statement stressing that each campus has an emergency response plan and that students and faculty perform intruder drills. He added that the current safety plan is under review. He expressed a sentiment echoed often in the wake of tragedies, that the perpetrator sent up red flags that someone could have seen and responded to. He encouraged parents and residents to be alert for suspicious behaviors.
In response to a concern by elementary parent Thaddeus Millard that exterior doors are left unlocked, principal Linda Romano said that they are not, and that she walks around the building often to make sure they are locked. There is also a sign-in procedure, she added, so that no one gets past the office without signing in. Blanco High School teacher Jason Murphy said he has discussed exit procedures with his students and that his classroom door is kept locked now so that no one can come in unannounced. He concluded, “I think everyone here is smart enough to come up with the best solution for our schools.”
Trustees seemed to welcome the input of those in attendance. Trustee Charles Riley responded, “It’s unfathomable. We all have kids, and we want to take care of our kids and your kids.” Darrell Wagner added, “We’re thinking about it as hard as you are, and we want to work it out.” Trustee Tim Nance said, “We want to know what your vision is.” He asked Dr. Ford where parents could get feedback for their concerns, and Dr. Ford responded that they should call the school administrative office. Principal Linda Romano told this reporter that she plans to send a letter to parents outlining the safety measures in place at BES to ease concerns. She echoed a sentiment expressed at last night’s meeting, that if any good comes from the Sandy Hook tragedy, it is that other schools become safer places. Elementary parent Tell Finch expressed concern that this issue may “get kicked down the road.” The contrary was true at last night’s meeting, where it was obvious that heightened security and student safety have been and will continue to be first priority. Trustees continued their discussion during Executive Session.
On a lighter note, Dr. Ford and students from each campus celebrated School Board Appreciation Month by honoring trustees with gifts ranging from snack packs to hand-written books and collared Blanco ISD shirts. A mural behind the trustees’ table proclaimed the district motto, “Rising to New Heights” with a picture of each trustee on a balloon rising above the façade of the renovated original Blanco School. Dr. Ford commended the trustees “for their commitment to school quality and advocacy for the children of our community,” calling it a “year-round commitment” and presented each of them a certificate. Blanco High student body president Kelsey Schwind presented each trustee with a limited edition Blanco Panther decal. Each elementary school grade “adopted” a trustee and interviewed him, with results ranging from a pre-K book entitled, “Where Is Mr. San Miguel?” to a book of hand-drawn pictures for Kirk Felps, to a “Biography of Matt Herden” composed by fifth graders. Middle school students gave each trustee a packet of bluebonnet cookies, while middle school UIL winner Taylor Kotfass read an original poem based on the children’s book, “The Legend of the Bluebonnet.” Montana Wiseman read an original humorous story called, “The Fortune Teller,” in which trustees each made a wish which was granted, based on luck and the hard work of each of them. Principal Bill Luna explained that the bluebonnet symbolizes service, and that trustees have modeled that quality to the students of BISD. Finally, a packet of handwritten letters from middle schoolers was presented to the trustees.
The Blanco Middle School UIL Team was also honored by the monthly Spotlight since they won a recent meet by a resounding margin of over 500 points over the second-place team. Team members Taylor Kotfas, Jayme Mowery, Jackson Hunter, Ciara Keogh, Lance Reinhard, Chase Coggins, Jacob Robinson, Garrett Seales, and Brenna Wallace each received a certificate and praise from Mr. Luna, who said,” This presentation makes me happy and proud. It’s how they won the points. They didn’t show off—they won with class.”
Dr. Ford shined the Spotlight for the district on Kathy Anderson, Director of Curriculum and Special Programs, commending her for an “outstanding job for the district.He called her a “valuable part of the administrative team” and said he welcomed the opportunity to honor her. Among her accomplishments is the implementation of the C-Scope Program, which aligns curriculum and her leadership of the Migrant Program in the district.
In other business, Dr. Ford updated trustees on steps by the district to implement Goal #2—“BISD Students will be college and post-high school ready.” Each principal enumerated activities to promote this goal, including career days, college days, Talent Search activities and high-school level courses at the middle school, and dual-enrollment classes at the high school. Principal Dustin Barton said that 42 juniors and seniors are currently enrolled in college-level classes while still in high school.
Kathy Anderson conducted a public hearing on the results of standardized testing in the district, which this year include TAKS results but not the controversial STAAR test. Results can be found on the district website, blancoisd.org.
Trustees voted to approve a resolution to defer implementing a statutory provision to have the STAAR test count as 15 percent of a student’s final grade. This is the second year that districts have received permission from the state to defer this requirement. Trustees also voted to order an election for school board trustee for places 5, 6, and 7 for May 11, 2013. Matt Herden currently holds Place 5; Charles Riley, Place 6; and Bernie San Miguel, Place 7. The first day to file for a place on the ballot is January 30, 2013, and the last date will be March 1 at 5 p.m.
The March trustees’ meeting has been changed from the second Monday, March 11, to the first Monday, March 4, because the original date falls within the district’s spring break.
Vanguard Contractors project manager Joel Benjegerdes updated trustees on the progress of the elementary school construction/renovation project and showed pictures of new windows in place at the back of the Old Yellow Building and exposed trusses in the new library, which will give it “a lodge look,” according to Benjegerdes. He said a highlight of the latest progress is the gypsum board which is 90 percent complete in the east classroom wing, allowing the heat to be turned on. In response to trustee San Miguel’s question, Benjegerdes said that the drainage issues have been corrected now that grass has germinated to absorb runoff. Darrel Wagner asked why a water softener system was not originally specified, and if its addition late has caused damage to appliances in the new cafeteria kitchen. Kay Fraser said there does not seem to be a problem. He also asked why the freezer space is not as large as that at the high school and was told that additional shelving could be added to increase its capacity. Finally, he requested that TxDOT be contacted to coordinate the flashing school zone lights on Highway 281 with the times that school opens and closes. A walk-through of the historic building with trustees is scheduled for Monday, February 11, at 6 p.m. prior to the regular meeting.
Following Executive Session, trustees voted to extend the superintendent’s contract for three more years.