by John Heaton, Headmaster
If you had told me when I was a sixth grader that someday I would say, “I love getting up in the morning and going to school!” I would have stared at you with all the blankness a middle-schooler could muster. But it’s true. I DO love my job. I work with wonderful people, but most of all, I have the pleasure of spending my day with your children. It’s truly a blessing.
With nearly 500 people in the building at any time, however, one thought is never far from my mind – safety. When you drop your children at New Covenant, one of my most important tasks is keeping them secure while they are in our care. Here are a few things from my daily routine.
I arrive in the morning at 7:15, and the first thing waiting in my inbox is an e-mail from the state police registry of sex offenders. It gives me a daily report of everyone living with twenty five miles who has been placed on the state registry – their names, their offenses, date of conviction, and most importantly, a map showing where they live in relation to the school. I scan it for five minutes and take notes for any necessary action. That happens before I ever get to faculty matins.
Then I meet with the faculty for daily prayer in the chapel where I or Chaplain Morse pray for your children by name. Faculty members are posted at all drop locations, and other supervised areas, and by 7:40 a.m. I’m on the sidewalk out front, helping children out of their cars. You are asked to pull all the way forward to get cars off of Fleetwood Drive, and to place your children in the car so that they can exit to the sidewalk to avoid traffic. (Some of you are still learning!) We make moves carefully and sometimes we test your patience by taking our time, just to be sure you see that little child over the hood of your SUV. At 8:00 all the doors in the building are locked and checked. The only entrance is by the front door where staff will “buzz” you in, whereupon you are required to sign the log, in exchange for a visitor’s pass. The school nurses, Beth Mayberry and Nancy Freerksen are on duty for all school hours.
As the day proceeds, I or Mrs. Patterson, make rounds around mid-morning. We push doors to make sure they are secure, and we check to see that no one has propped a door open. By lunch time, Mr. Trittipoe has assisted the “Lunch Bunch” staff with tables, two of which are carefully marked as “Peanut free” zones, to be sure that those students with allergies are protected. Staff is already informed of each child’s condition. When students finish lunch they are free to play outside in designated places. A staff member, usually Mrs. Sirici, takes her post at the door where students are free to go in and out of the gym.
Once each month we practice a fire drill. This is inconvenient, but it is a necessary part of our safety plan. We execute the drill, time it, and I give immediate comments to the student body over the intercom. Mrs. Mosher keeps a log of all of our drills. Alternatively, we may practice a lock-down drill which involves every staff member and teacher. For either drill each instructor has a roster located in the room showing the students names who are scheduled in that room at that hour. In the unlikely event of real evacuation or lockdown, our teachers are trained to account for every person in the building in a matter of minutes and to communicate their status to the office in an orderly procedure.
In addition, the Lynchburg Tactical Unit has also been given the opportunity to bring its team to the school for training. This unit knows the inside of the building, the broader campus, and has run drills in preparation for the unlikely, but worst case emergency that we might experience.
All of this is tied to our comprehensive emergency plan, developed with the Lynchburg Sheriff’s Office. This plan has been filed with the authorities, and, perhaps more importantly, occupies a prominent place at the front desk. I keep a copy in my desk drawer, immediately to the right of my computer mouse. It details what I am to do in more than fifteen types of emergencies.
In the afternoon younger students will have recess in one of two playgrounds located near the kindergarten wing and the grammar school commons. Both of these areas are fenced and no students are left unsupervised.
At 2:50 pm Mr. Mosher arrives and takes his post at the front lobby desk where he remains on duty for the afternoon. When school concludes at 3:00 pm, students are dismissed to the sidewalks out front and on the chapel side of the building. You may have noticed by now that they have been trained to stay on the sidewalk, sometimes right by your car, until a faculty member instructs them to load. (On the chapel side, there’s actually a line painted on the sidewalk). That’s right. They don’t move to load until they have been given the “go ahead,” even you’re sitting right there.
Students in grades k-6 who remain after school and who are not in a scheduled activity such as sports or tutoring, are taken to after school care where Miss Pat is waiting for them with her staff. All others in grades 7 and up are required to report to Mr. Mosher to sign in, and may remain in designated common spaces to study or hang out until they are picked up. Mr. Mosher makes regular rounds to make sure students are where they should be, and he checks classroom and exterior doors to ensure that they are locked. On days where home games are scheduled, the front door remains open to accommodate large numbers of guests.
There is much more to the unseen side of safety procedures at New Covenant, but you should know that the board of directors, the administration and the entire faculty have given serious attention to minimizing risk and assuring that we can do all that is humanly possible to assure the safety of our children.