Big Rapids, Reed City Michigan superintendents talk safety priorities | #schoolsaftey

BIG RAPIDS — As the new academic year kicks off, area district administrators are reviewing the priorities around safety for students and staff.

At Big Rapids Public Schools, the latest addition to its safety arsenal is the newly installed security and notification system Syn-Apps, which utilizes a software product called Revolution to interconnect its digital devices.

The benefits include simultaneously sending notifications to designated systems and endpoints, helping to optimize communication processes, improving system management, accelerating incident response time and improving safety.

BRPS Superintendent Tim Haist said the new system also supports weather, lockdown drills and the district’s medical emergency response teams.

“We installed a new system to make sure that we could communicate with our entire staff much more quickly and more efficiently when we needed medical emergency response, or if there was ever a need to go into a lockdown, or for other safety drill purposes as well,” Haist said. “In this past year, we used it much more frequently to call our medical emergency response teams in our buildings. If we would have an incident where a student had a medical need, where we needed to respond to that situation, this allows us to call those teams much more effectively and to respond to those situations much more quickly.”

Haist said configuring the district’s systems with new technology will benefit every building.

“We made a transition to aligning our plan with other schools within the ISD (Intermediate School District) to have common terminology,” Haist said. “If there was ever a call to 911, they would have common terminology. We worked with our emergency management and the emergency manager in the county to help do that.

“We’ll continue to do more training with our staff, just so that they have a better general understanding of the terminology. We drill (and) we practice to make sure people know how to respond in those events.”

The ease of communication through the new systems has given administrators and staff alike peace of mind in being able to alert the district if an emergency were to occur, according to Haist.

Maintaining solid relationships and regular communication with local law enforcement has also added to the safety of the district.

“We work well with our county emergency manager we meet regularly (with) and we’re fortunate to have two liaison officers, one that we partner with at the sheriff’s department,” Haist said. “We also have a liaison officer that we partner with the city of Big Rapids in our buildings, and they allow us to keep that day-to-day connection with those local law enforcement agencies.

“We also do meet regularly with the larger group with our sheriff’s department with the county emergency manager and local public safety to make sure we’re having ongoing conversations about what we can continue to do better.”

Last year, the district completed the installation of door barricades from Taylor Brothers Door Lock LLC, which are designed to be easily installed and removed for ease of safety and additional protection against potential intruders.

The administration has also adopted the use of OK2SAY, a student safety program that allows anyone to confidentially report tips on potential harm or criminal activities directed at school students, school employees and schools.


Reed City Area Public Schools also drills and connects with local law enforcement to maintain safety protocol.

Superintendent Mike Sweet said he is confident about the district’s security.

“We have worked very tightly with the Osceola County emergency manager (Mark Watkins), who’s also part of the city police,” Sweet said. “We work with him regarding all of our drills, how we run scenarios during drills, how we improve radio communications and just our responses. We will run live scenario drills when we do ours there’s always a great opportunity to learn about potential points of failure in the plan so that you can then revise and make better plans for how to react to a number of incidents in the future.”

Continuing to focus on the district’s emergency operations plan will be important in improving strategically and staying prepared for incidents, according to Sweet.

Sweet said constantly improving policy and drill preparedness is a priority for the district year-round. The district recently received an ‘A’ rating which means all requirements for preparedness have been met for the last three years.

“He (Watkins) gave us a high grade, that we’re prepared, that we run live drill scenarios, instead of just saying, ‘let’s evacuate the building,’” Sweet said. “We ended up lots of times with a scenario about why we’re evacuating the building, and have different people be pushed into the point of having to report it and start that process because that’s where a breakdown can occur.

“We want to reach out to the schools, push people to actually use the training that they’ve received instead of just letting it sit in their head,he said. “Then comes a stressful situation that’s the real deal, they might be able to pull that information out as quickly or as efficiently as they could if they’ve been placed in a real-life scenario when we’re running the drill instead of just running the drill to check the box.”

RCAPS also has a social worker at the elementary and is working toward getting additional ones for the middle school and high school.

The district’s social-emotional wellness coach Natasha Bancroft has worked in the last year to address adolescent mental health, vaping concerns and more through working with students and staff.

Sweet said the district also provides support for teachers, administrators, other staff members and has worked hard to recruit and put into place additional staff numbers to address any sort of mental health issues that students or staff might be adding.

“We’re going to just continue to reiterate what’s in our emergency operations plan, about how we address certain situations because we’re going to train to two scenarios, to make sure that people just remember the skills that they’ve already been taught and how to utilize them,” Sweet said. “We’ll also work with new staff to make sure that we bring everybody up to speed with the remainder of staff when we’re doing good things.” 

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