At its Aug. 27 board meeting, the Huffman ISD Board of Trustees received a progress report from its safety focus group that was formed immediately following the Santa Fe school shooting last May.
District Superintendent Dr. Benny Soileau explained that the objective for the group was to make recommendations to improve school preparedness in the event of a campus shooting. During the summer the committee met three times.
When he introduced the group’s chairman, Soileau said, “Guy Smith was generous enough to chair that committee on behalf of the district. We had a lot of good ideas and we had a lot of tough conversations about what was right and what was not.”
Smith said, “The makeup of the committee was 15 members representing various groups in Huffman. We picked folks that are out in the community that are involved, one, to bring input to the committee and, two, to go back out in the community to keep it informed. The purpose of the committee was to consider preventative measures.”
Smith, himself a former Huffman ISD trustee, explained the committee had a blank check when it came to the specifics of what to consider.
“Everybody came into the meeting with the attitude of: this is what I think we need to do. We had long discussions on everything from metal detectors to tasers, to blocking the hallways and every other measure that was possible,” said Smith.
Smith explained that during the discussions some of the things like installing metal detectors that everyone was talking about right after the Santa Fe shooting was brought up, which seemed to gain an instant backlash reaction. He noted, with one exception, the group felt metal detectors were not worth the money for what they brought to the district in terms of prevention and protection.
“Some of the schools biggest challenges are things the school doesn’t control, but there are some things we think the district should try to support,” said Smith. He described those things and how they might help. They included: more and better “watch dog” programs involving the parents, especially the fathers of students; considering the restructuring of counselor duties to provide more time for “one-on-one” and small-group interactions to address students’ mental and emotional needs; and development of a Web page linked to a computer icon that can direct students and others to join and participate in various groups and programs (Soileau said this recommendation was now in development by the district); increased police presence at the beginning and end of the school day; and K-9 dog patrols at certain times and places. Smith pointed out that this might be more for public show and confidence building than actual prevention but that, in itself, had value.
The focus group also supported a more robust SHAC (School Health Advisory Council). Smith noted that the committee thought
that the SHAC has a lot of potential to do some great things to identify and help kids at risk.
“We also talked about researching the possibility of our own police force,” said Smith. He noted that the idea had been discussed many years ago and it did not make financial sense back then, but times have changed.
“The group would like the district to look into seeing if that is still the case or does it make sense to go a different route,” Smith said.
The trustees each thanked Smith for the group’s dedication and hard work and indicated they would be taking these recommendations very seriously.
In other business, the trustees received reports on the first day of school, which was the day of their meeting. All the schools opened without major problems. Of note was the successful opening of the recently completed Falcon Ridge Elementary School. Project Manager Tom Trial provided details about how close the team came to not making the deadlines, but with the help of everyone working together the school was ready. He pointed out that many of the teachers helped with moving furniture into the building on the Sunday before school started and the opening occurred on schedule. Falcon Ridge Principal Amy Turner provided a video of the first day of school in the brand-new building.
“The teachers started arriving around 6 a.m. in the morning and we just took it one step at a time. They were so awesome; I have never been with, or been so proud of, a group of teachers like these and how they worked together,” said Turner.
Soileau announced there would be a Falcon Ridge Open House for the public soon. The next regularly scheduled board meeting will be Monday, Sept. 24, at 7 p.m. in the Board Room of the Huffman ISD Administration Building.