Chamber of Commerce discusses recent lockout, expresses teacher appreciation

Washington County School District Superintendent Larry Bergeson addresses the St. George Chamber of Commerce during a luncheon held at the Best Western Abbey Inn, St. George, Utah, Oct. 15, 2014 | Photo by Hollie Reina, St. George News

ST. GEORGE – Education was the topic of the hour at Wednesday’s St. George Chamber of Commerce luncheon with Washington County School District Superintendent Larry Bergeson as the invited guest speaker.

Chamber and community members were invited to attend the luncheon held at the Best Western Abbey Inn in St. George where Bergeson discussed educational topics ranging from district growth and improvements to schedule changes and safety procedures in the aftermath of the recent Zions Bank Robbery which saw 12 district schools on lockout protocol.

When it rains it pours

Bergeson began his remarks discussing two events that occurred in the same week in September that both put the district to the test and helped them to improve their safety procedures.

On Sept. 9, heavy rainfall in the Santa Clara area caused a roof failure at Snow Canyon Middle School, Bergeson said, that came through the ceiling and flooded several classrooms.

Two days later, a bank robber at Zions Bank in St. George led police on a chase through the Washington Fields area, instigating lockout procedures in 12 district schools from the elementary all the way to high school levels.

Bergeson addressed the chamber and discussed safety protocol that is already in place and working, as well as things they learned from recent happenings that can be and are being improved upon.

“We plan constantly for such events,” Bergeson said, “but it is different when you get them.”

Bergeson talked about the school safety committee, a group of school personnel as well as law enforcement and safety officers, that meets monthly to assess and reassess school safety procedures from natural disasters such as floods, fires and earthquakes to emergency protocol, such as lockouts and lockdowns – lockouts being when the emergency is taking place outside the school, and a lockdown is when the threat is within the school.

One of the important things that was learned in the robbery lockout incident was that the mass texting system was slow and ineffective in its current state, Bergeson said, stating that most of the parents did not receive text information about the lockout until hours after the incident; learning about the lockout instead, from news agencies in the area.

“In the recent lockout incident we found that the text blasting tools that we used didn’t reach the people, they were delayed as many as three hours,” Bergeson said. “The new one is going to have the capability of text blasting out to 30,000 (parents) in a matter of minutes.”

Information will come directly from the district, Bergeson said, and the new system will be in place within the week if not already.

One of the positive things that came to light after the incident was what Bergeson called the “reunification procedure” – the procedure that reunites students with parents when they have to stay in school after school hours. Bergeson said that normally they don’t spend a lot of time practicing this procedure, but had done so this school year, previous to the event, which proved to be very helpful.

Future growth and change 

Bergeson also discussed growth and change in the district, including: renovations to five elementary schools to make them safer, and the planning and construction of new buildings.

One of the more interesting conversation points was a proposed plan by the district to change the high school schedule to a 5×5 block schedule rather than a 4×4 block schedule. The purpose of this change, Bergeson said, is to allow time within the school structure to identify and help students who are struggling to grasp concepts that are taught in the regular school day.

The new schedule would allow the schools to build a response to intervention programs into the day, Bergeson said, that will give students the opportunity to extend their learning.

The proposed plan has been met with opposition and, Bergeson admitted, that change is hard but believes this change is a necessary one to identify and help students struggling with difficult concepts.

Teacher appreciation

Bergeson’s remarks paid tribute to the teachers that work within the district encouraging attendees to thank an educator.

“Teachers do their very best to educate your kids,” Bergeson said, “… they do phenomenal work.”

Also on the education agenda was an address by Steve Wilson, a board member of the Washington County School District Foundation, which is the fundraising arm of the school district. The board does numerous fundraising projects including the Dixie Power Kite Festival in the spring, golf tournaments throughout the year and the upcoming Spooky Town Fair.

Wilson discussed and asked for donations to the teacher grant program which allows teachers to apply for small grants of up to $500 to fund “humble” projects in their classroom that will make a big difference, Wilson said.

Through donations to the project, the foundation hopes to fund as many of the grant proposals as possible, Wilson said, to help teachers on the front line who know what a difference $200 or $300 can make in the classroom.

“I think everybody knows in the back of their head, if they know a school teacher, that a school teacher will spend money out of their own pocket to make up the difference for a binder or pencils or whatever it is,” Wilson said. “Those school teachers know where a little bit more money will make a big impact.”

Wilson echoed Bergeson’s remarks about the amazing impact and influence a teacher can have in a persons life and hopes this grant will act as a gift to those teachers who influenced him and have influence on the students of today, he said.

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