Back to school

With our typical glorious August weather, I like many of you are looking forward to a few days away from work – to rest and relax!  But I am reminded that many in our community are ramping up to a new school year.  Educating our children and young adults is one of the most important jobs in our community, and I’m grateful for the instructors, teachers, professors, administrators, custodians, and staff who are making final preparations for classes to begin!

Getting our youngest learners off to the strongest possible start is essential.  And that responsibility falls to the many preschool programs throughout the County.  (Just last night, my family was singing the praises of “Teacher Vera” – the preschool teacher for my 33-year-old son who is getting married tomorrow!)  Children have a wonderful lack of a filter when it comes to sharing their opinions or ideas.  If you want the truth – or to be humbled – just ask a kid!

You probably know that our Human Services team manages the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP) for three- and four-year-old children. As part of their effort to promote enrollment, they Interviewed some of their students. 

Take a look!

Clearly, their Civics curriculum needs some work! 😜

Our ECEAP program operates in 7 locations across the County and is currently accepting students for the new school year!

You can get more information about the program’s features and learn how to qualify here.

This week, our Department of Emergency Management (DEM) hosted a three-day School Safety Summit.

About 70 first responders, school security officials, public information officers, administrators, and elected officials from across Pierce County gathered to focus on keeping our students safe while they learn – and preparing for events we hope will never happen.

The three-day event started with a powerful presentation from Michele Gay, a mother who lost her daughter at the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012. Her remarks were devastating, of course, but she is using her grief and loss to help schools prevent another tragedy. We also had more local presenters sharing about their experiences.  Deputy Executive Dan Grimm and I participated in the Critical Decision-Making Seminar with other school, university, and public safety leaders. 

And yesterday afternoon, I observed the active shooter exercise for first responders at Steilacoom High School.  (I also was at the DEM-hosted exercise last December at Gig Harbor High School).  These trainings are as realistic as possible, involving law enforcement and fire professionals from across the County and volunteers acting as victims.  Candidly, they are difficult to watch – depicting the worst nightmare for a community.  But we know seconds can make the difference between life and death.  So, our first responder teams train hard – to ensure they respond both quickly and effectively.

In many cases, school staff are the true “first responders.”  We learned about an incident in Lacey where a teacher and the principal physically intervened before anyone got hurt.  In other incidents, the custodians were there to protect their students.

I was particularly thankful that we had Summit participants not only from our K12 school districts, but also from our private schools, community and technical colleges, and local universities.  We know that preparation includes testing scenarios, but also establishing relationships and understanding that we all come together in the face of a tragedy at any school.

I particularly appreciate our DEM team for hosting the Summit.  Director Jody Ferguson and Deputy Director Amy Gillespie were the vision behind this critical work.  Putting on the Summit took the concerted effort of many of the Emergency Management team and John Holdsworth was at the point!  Thank you, John, and all the DEM staff, for bringing our community together around keeping our students safe!

Have a great weekend – school starts soon!