PHILIPSBURG - It takes a village.
Despite the politics that the above phrase was once linked to, it was the central theme Thursday during a staff training day at Philipsburg School as they learned about being prepared. And with September being National Preparedness Month, the message could not have been better timed.
The training day is part of the regular staff instruction that all schools give, but the subject matter was something that according to Montana State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Elsie Arntzen, needs to stay at the forefront of everyone's thinking.
"When I talk to superintendents it is about budget, it is about curriculum, it is about testing but the number one thing is safety," explained Arntzen. "It's a very hot topic that I don't want to become a 'shiny penny' that goes away and gets dull. It needs to be something that's robust in professional development for teachers ... They need to have discussions on how to keep students safe? How do they keep themselves safe? How does the community play a part in that?
"We're not there yet, so we have a lot of work left to do."
Not being 'there' yet was also echoed by Philipsburg Schools Superintendent Mike Cutler.
When asked about where the school is with its plans now and where he thinks it needs to get to, Cut responded with, "I feel great and I feel terrible at the same time. I think we're well prepared in some scenarios and I think we have no clue in some other scenarios."
Cutler's feelings on those matters was likely deepened by the seminars held Thursday morning by Randy Middlebrook, Protective Security Advisor for Montana with the Department of Homeland Security.
Middlebrook's discussion centered around examining a number of scenarios in which a school could find itself. While an active shooter, or even a school threat like Philipsburg experienced last February, are possibilities and certainly the hottest topics, Middlebrook also urged the local school district to consider how any Emergency Action Plan (EAP) might handle a variety of situations.
"Typically what's on our teachers' minds is an active shooter," said Cutler, "but it so much bigger than that and what's on my mind."
As Middlebrook pointed out during the discussions, any situation has a number of factors that could present themselves that you have to at least account for. "You can't protect everyone and everything," said Middlebrook, "but you have to be aware of where all the risks are how you might deal with them."In a prepared statement that Middlebrook handed out prior to the meeting, U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen M. Nielsen stated, "For any facility - whether it's a school, concert venue or office building - it is important to examine all existing security measures before implementing new ones. Looking for gaps or vulnerabilities allows you to identify and prioritize changes that can be made.
"I realize that is easier said than done and that is why DHS is here to help."
The seminars were provided free of charge to the Philipsburg School district and are part of the normal operations of the Montana office's operations and scope.
Following a potluck lunch, the afternoon session was scheduled to take faculty and staff around the school complex and discuss possible scenarios and solutions.
"When I talk to superintendents it is about budget, it is about curriculum, it is about testing but the number one thing is safety," remarked Arntzen. "So pushing it to the height of awareness, the media does that. It use to be a week before we got any information about that, now it's instantaneous. And not only are school leaders getting that information, students are getting that information and families are getting that information. And they're asking what we are doing to prevent that.
"And I want to lead that discussion at the state level. I don't want to encumber, I want to hear and that's why I'm here today."
Cutler stated that Philipsburg Schools is working with its safety committee to flesh out an EAP whose scope cab better handle a wider variety of potential scenarios in addition to the ones Cutler feels they have in hand now.