An Open Letter from Superintendent Dr. J.A. Gonzalez
We are all heartbroken about the tragedy that unfolded in Florida earlier this week. Coupled with previous similar catastrophes throughout the country, these incidents leave us feeling deep sorrow and, at the same time, concern for our own community.
As both an educator and the father of one kindergartener and two younger children who will be joining our schools in the next two years, I, too, grieve for young lives lost and for the senseless nature of it all. I have thought deeply and introspectively about these matters.
In McAllen ISD, we want our campuses to be welcoming and enriching environments. But we cannot compromise safety and security. The recent incidents in our own schools have proven to be false alarms, but we have to take all matters of this sort seriously. Your concerns are reasonable. We share in that sentiment.
We have systems and processes in place to handle these situations and we are continuously looking for ways to improve them. We frequently conduct drills for lock-downs, lock-outs, and fire alarms, so our students and employees are well versed in emergency preparedness.
However, we also welcome a greater conversation about our safety and security procedures. We would like to update you about the measures we have in place and about our plans to expand on those efforts in the future with respect to school safety. Please join us for a dialogue – a Safety and Security Town Hall Meeting on Tuesday, February 20, 2018, 6:30-7:30 p.m., at Lamar Academy, Texas Our Texas Room, 1009 North 10th Street, McAllen. The event will also be live streamed on our social media.
All middle and high school campuses are staffed with police officers, who work for the McAllen ISD Police Department. In addition to campus officers, there is an element of our patrol division that is primarily responsible for police coverage and patrolling at our elementary schools. In addition, we have a certified police drone team. The police department also mans 956-632-8768, a dedicated telephone line that will take and disseminate information about concerns. If you see something, please say something.
During the last two years, our District has made great strides in improving safety and security at our campuses. We have installed security cameras and access-control systems at our campuses. In addition, every McAllen ISD campus is equipped with the Raptor Identification System. This system provides staff the ability to scan a driver’s license or other form of ID and runs that person’s information through various sex-offender databases. This is one more way that we are monitoring and managing entrances to our buildings.
Starting in July of 2015, we began installing security lobbies in all elementary schools. We plan to continue adding security enhancements in the coming years. We are well underway on an initiative to ensure that every classroom door is able to be locked from inside the classroom. We have also updated the training that school employees receive.
Review of emergency procedures and drills happens daily. In fact, our district has an Emergency Management person on staff, whose entire job is to monitor our drills and all our safety systems – full time. We have a mental health component, Emergency Management Plans, and procedures in place for every single facility in our district.
We work closely with the local city police and fire departments. We have an Emergency Operations Center, where we monitor all campuses from one location. So even when you do not see a uniformed officer, we are providing vigilance through our security systems. In addition, we take proactive measures (Example: Bully Prevention Program) throughout the year.
However, again as an educator and father, I believe that the most powerful tool in our effort to improve school safety is what we do as caring members of our community. We want to increase the level of conversation with our children and with other members of our community. No one is laughing when someone posts a hoax message. We have to help our young people understand that safety is a serious matter. We have to celebrate a community that is willing to look out for each other and report unsafe situations when they see them. We have to celebrate that a community that cares will always want more. We want more. Our children deserve no less.
Please know that our Board of Trustees understands that a student who does not feel safe cannot learn and so our united McAllen ISD family will continue to hold student safety as our highest and most sacred priority.
J.A. Gonzalez, Ed. D.
Superintendent of Schools