APPLEGATE: Crisis response key to nurturing school community

As recent tragic events have demonstrated, you can never be too prepared for a crisis situation. At Niles Community Schools, we are constantly improving upon our crises preparedness plans and meeting with local law enforcement to build on security measures.

These include crisis response protocol, staff and student training, internal and external communication, and crisis response time. We also continue to have an open dialogue with students and parents alike about the role they play in keeping our schools and community safe.

At the same time, having a plan in place for after a crisis — no matter the scale — is just as important as working to stop crises in their tracks. In the school community, every teacher, administrator and staff member plays a critical role in supporting students and staff in the aftermath of crises.

At Niles Community Schools, we are privileged to have a team dedicated to crisis response. The team includes Tracy Hertsel, director of student support services; Melissa Troup, director of special education; Angie Lick, Niles City Police liaison; as well as school social workers, behavior specialists and deans of students.

Our Crisis Response Team exists for a simple, but essential purpose: to reduce the psychological or social difficulties of a crisis for students, teachers and staff.

In schools, crises come in all shapes and sizes, and can include anything from a tragic house fire to the death of a beloved school volunteer. While we wish they never happened in the first place, it is essential we’re prepared to support our school community when they do.

In response to a crisis, our team assembles — often overnight — to gather the facts and information needed to assess the crisis. Through our strong network of community partners, the team sifts through the rumors and gossip that may be churning, and relies on valuable connections in law enforcement and public safety to get to the truth. We then determine the schools, students, teachers and staff most likely to be directly or indirectly affected.

Based on that decision, the team prepares the resources and information needed for building administrators, teachers, staff and students, ensuring all needs are met before school begins in the morning. Grief counselors are always available to our students, but in times of crises, they are critical partners in helping the school community cope.

Often, responding to a crisis means simply being present for all those who may have been affected. The crisis response team, and its behavioral health experts, make their presence known to teachers, staff and students who may be in need of support. Teachers and staff are irreplaceable in this process, as they are often the first line of support and help inform our team of the unique needs of their students. Together, we do all we can to minimize the impact any crises have on our school family.

Ultimately, any crisis that affects our students, teachers and staff would be significantly more trying if not for the strong support we rely on from the Niles community. Be it pastoral groups or neighborhood organizations, Niles is a community that comes together in times of need, and we are better for it.

Dr. Dan Applegate is the superintendent of Niles Community Schools.

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