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School safety: Hays CISD aims to stay ahead of the curve

By Brittany Anderson

Hays CISD is working diligently to ensure that the district’s safety and security protocols are effective, up to date and fully understood by parents, students and administration. 

Jeri Skrocki, Head of District Safety & Security in Hays CISD, gave a presentation over the protocols during the Hays CISD board meeting on June 20, outlining what her team and the district as a whole have been working on to accomplish as the 2022-2023 school year approaches.

Skrocki acknowledged that tension surrounding school safety is high right now following last month’s elementary school shooting in Uvalde, but said that there are other safety and security issues to consider as well, not just active shooters — like drugs, nicotine vapes, even traffic and inclement weather. 

Skrocki said the most important aspect of these protocols is creating “muscle memory,” saying that everyone should lead by example so these kinds of things become part of their everyday activities. 

“As I’m walking into a room, I pull the door shut, I push on it and I make sure it’s closed and secure,” Skrocki said. “Those are the kinds of things we want to start creating on our campuses to make sure we’re creating that muscle memory so everybody knows this is the expectation. Skrocki added that things like having IDs visible and making everyone go through the proper entrance/exit of the school are vital.

Skrocki provided an update on safety and security programs currently in place, as well as others they are planning to implement: 

• Anonymous reporting apps: the community collaborates with local law enforcement via the app iWatch Texas, which has already helped the district with several successful investigations regarding social media threats; Hays Hopeline serves to report bullying, harassment and other mental health crises. 

• Assessment and Care Team (ACT): following the passage of Senate Bill 11, each campus will have a trained ACT that consists of a designated administrator, counselor, SPED (special education) representative, nurse, school resource officer and a teacher, administrator or coach to serve as a mentor to help identify individuals at risk and provide them with resources.

• Community Emergency Response Veterans Program: local veterans who have been rigorously vetted and trained will serve as an extra set of eyes for campuses and help monitor during high-peak times like recess, before school and after school.

• Drills: Crisis notifications that call for drills — be it for a fire, active shooter or anything else — should be done with a purpose, reviewed regularly and ensure that everyone is educated on what to do during a critical situation. “Drills have to be goal-oriented and not just checking a box,” Skrocki said.

• Parent and student safety teams: a parent safety team and student safety team on each campus will meet throughout the semester and discuss what is going well and what needs improvement. “I need voices of the district to be able to advocate for Buda, San Marcos, Kyle and Hays County,” Skrocki said. “They’re going to be of a perspective we haven’t really thought of, so our goal is to give those folks [parents and students]a voice.” 

Other items discussed included campus security cameras and improved lighting, gates and fencing, up-to-date maps for first responders, drug education, crossing guard training and addressing other traffic concerns, emergency operations plan (EOP), standard response protocol (SRP) and more. 

Ultimately, Skrocki described safety and security as an iceberg, with most people just seeing the tip of it but knowing that there is much more going on underneath. 

“Safety and security is a team [effort]. We can’t do it without everybody doing their part,” Skrocki said. “The realism that we need to address is that it’s not just me as an individual; it’s something we need to understand from the most global draw. At the end of the day, if we can’t have an environment that is safe and conducive to learning, then we’re going to have problems with our kids feeling comfortable.”  

Trustee Courtney Runkle pointed out that they are working on the 2022-2023 budget and will take into consideration what Skrocki has brought to the table. 

“I know that wish list you guys are working on, but we also have a budget in front of us,” Runkle said. “We will obviously come back and adjust and amend what we need to amend, because what is currently under safety and security on the budget needs to be addressed a little bit.”  

While the item did not call for a vote, board members expressed their appreciation for the thorough work that has been done to help the district stay safe — but also, their disappointment that these kinds of conversations are even having to be talked about at such length.

“We’re never going to stop evil in the world,” Skrocki said. “Evil exists. I wish I could keep all of us from ever having to deal with it. The reality is, we need to make ourselves as unattractive of a soft target as we possibly can. That means collectively, Hays County, which means every single person that lives here, works here, has a student in our school district, needs to be a safety ambassador. There’s no other way around it … one county, one protocol. It’s not just words. It’s a way of life.” 

About Author

Brittany Anderson graduated from Texas State University in August 2020 with a bachelor's degree in journalism. She previously worked at KTSW 89.9, Texas State University's radio station, for nearly two years in the web content department as a writer and assistant manager. She has reported for the Hays Free Press/News-Dispatch since July 2021.

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