Keeping the Cherry Creek School District community safe and secure is a dynamic process.
In a district that comprises more than 54,000 students and more than 7,900 teachers and staff, the approach to security is constantly evolving and shifting. The daily population of the Cherry Creek School District rivals the size and scope of most small cities in Colorado, and keeping that sizable community safe requires a constant degree of vigilance and adaptability.
"We've been working on our policy and approach for years, and we're still building on it," said Randy Councell, the district's director of safety and security. "The key is that it's evolving."
That evolution is far from simple. It means working directly with multiple law enforcement agencies throughout the year. It means staying up-to-date on the latest national and international safety and security standards and procedures. It means maintaining a wide range of high-tech equipment that includes radios, alarms, card readers and cameras.
"We're a growing school district, and we're always looking at ways to make our process better and more user-friendly," Councell said, pointing specifically to measures taken within the past 12 months. Those include adding roving security officials and investigators that rotate through schools across the district; updating the district's detailed Risk Evaluation and Management Strategy to include more focus on mental health and medical care; and increasing signs and labels at dozens of schools and district facilities to make emergency response more streamlined. "If there's an incident or emergency, it's an easy reference."
Those kinds of constant updates are nothing new in Cherry Creek Schools.
“The school district is taking the lead. They’re noticing that we’re served by different agencies. The district knows what we do and what our expectations are; we know what the district does and what their expectations are ... It takes a partnership. We don’t work in silos. We need to work with our friends and neighbors … to have a better community. That’s what you’re seeing here.”
-- Arapahoe County Sheriff David Walcher
In the past several years, the district has made sweeping updates to its security policy, and that work hasn't been done in isolation. Cherry Creek School District officials have had close interactions with police, fire and other law enforcement agencies spread across multiple municipalities. Specifically, the district has worked directly with five different law enforcement agencies to create a more streamlined and effective protocol for handling emergencies.
The work has come within the district as well, from the development of a state-of-the-art Emergency Operations Center at district headquarters in Greenwood Village to the installation of updated cameras, communication systems and building materials at schools across eight municipalities. It's all part of a comprehensive and flexible approach to safety.
For example, district officials wanted to create a shared language when it came to responding to an emergency. Finalizing a common definition of terms like "secure perimeter" and "lockdown" can be critical, especially in situations when mere seconds can mean the difference between life and death.
"We tried to develop a lot of consistency and commonality," said Arapahoe County Sheriff David Walcher. "The word 'lockdown' might have meant different things to different people. Now, we have a high level of consistency. If you have a major incident at a school, all of these entities will respond and be on the same page."
The same goes for fire departments. Cherry Creek has worked with South Metro, Cunningham and Aurora fire departments to streamline a common language and has included Englewood, Buckley and volunteer agencies from Strausburg, Bennet and other communities near the fringes of the district in the effort. The work includes large-scale emergency simulations that take place at district buildings throughout the year and involve crews of hundreds to properly prepare for an emergency.
For example, during a large-scale emergency simulation at Sky Vista Middle School in October, more than 200 police officers, fire fighters, emergency responders took part in
detailed and complex training exercises. The daylong event involved a crew of actors, school personnel and other contributors.
"The school district is taking the lead. They're noticing that we're served by different agencies. The district knows what we do and what our expectations are; we know what the district does and what their expectations are," Walcher said. "It takes a partnership. We don't work in silos. We need to work with our friends and neighbors … to have a better community. That's what you're seeing here."
All of that work is being noticed. The Cherry Creek School District has been recognized by the National Center for Sports Safety and Security for its approach to handling large-scale athletic events at Stutler Bowl, Legacy Stadium and beyond. What's more, the organization appointed Councell to its national committee for high school stadium safety.
"We review procedures and protocols for high school events," Councell said. "It's very similar to what the colleges and the professionals do, from the Indy 500 to the Boston Marathon. It's all designed for the high school level."
District officials aren't content with merely resting on their laurels when it comes to safety. Keeping current means paying close attention to the smallest details at every single building. That includes updating cameras at specific schools, an effort that's been implemented in the past several years and that was funded in part through bond money approved by voters in 2012. The district's Raptor ID system went into effect at all buildings in 2014, and offers a background check on all visitors via photo IDs and a national criminal database.
Those on-site elements come along with constantly updated phone systems and radios, networks that can provide an immediate security update to any classroom in a matter of seconds. Security staff and emergency responders have access to portable data drives that include detailed information on all buildings in the Cherry Creek district.
The 2016 bond election spells out further improvements to the district's security equipment, and Councell points out that the improvements would support work that's been taking place for several years.
"We are continuing upgrades to our camera system, our radio system," Councell said. "We're continuing where we left off in the 2012 bond."
Those seemingly small steps make a huge difference when it comes to keeping students, teachers and staff safe. By making constant updates and working closely with law enforcement officials from across the metro area, the Cherry Creek School District is ensuring that they're prepared for any situation.