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TIM LUTZ COLUMN: School health and safety are a major priority

Summer is a time when we prepare for the next school year, and that preparation requires plenty of effort as we work to fulfill the mission of the school district. The mission of Bemidji Area Schools is comprehensive and inclusive, and the work of carrying it out is never finished.

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As we enter the backside of the summer break, I am mindful of how busy a school district is even during the summer. We often look forward to a slower pace during the summer months, and that may be true for some of our individual school sites, but, at the district level, summer is often just as busy as the rest of the school year.

Summer is a time when we prepare for the next school year, and that preparation requires plenty of effort as we work to fulfill the mission of the school district. The mission of Bemidji Area Schools is comprehensive and inclusive, and the work of carrying it out is never finished.

The district’s mission is to empower each learner to succeed in our diverse and changing world. Supporting this mission are six core beliefs to which the district is committed.

We are committed to creating an environment where:

  1. Each learner will be challenged to develop to his or her full potential.
  2. Basic knowledge, skills and attitude are necessary for success.
  3. Learning is a life-long process that enriches our lives.
  4. Education is a partnership with family and community.
  5. Each person will show sensitivity and respect for self and others.
  6. There are expectations of quality for ourselves and for others.

These six core values, led by the overarching mission statement, provide a map or compass to help us focus our efforts and shape our decisions. If our work does not stem from these values, then we are not truly fulfilling our mission. However, an implied, yet very important value that acts as an umbrella over all of our other goals is school safety -- the health and wellbeing of every student and employee.
If school districts do not focus first and foremost on health and safety, we cannot succeed at our goal and mission of empowering each learner to succeed. This is something we proved again and again during the pandemic last year. As a district, we should all be very proud of how we kept students and employees safe while keeping students in school the majority of the year.

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But, the work of school safety is never finished. Pandemic or no pandemic, we always need to be mindful of school health and safety. Much of the work of the district this summer involves reviewing, planning and preparing to start the school year safely and to keep students and staff members safe and healthy throughout the school year.

We will continue to evaluate our controlled entrances to make sure our locks, door buzzers, and cameras are working. We will hone our District Emergency Operations Plan in order to mitigate potential threats from weapons and violent acts to natural threats such as tornadoes or fires. Over the past three years, we have evaluated our preparedness and examined our facilities in order to leave nothing to chance when it comes to safety. This work will continue all summer and will be evaluated every year as new threats and issues emerge.

In the wake of the pandemic and the disruptions to learning that occurred last year, common themes recognized by school leaders and policymakers are mental health and the social-emotional needs of students. Over the next few years, mental health and social-emotional learning will lie at the crux of school safety efforts throughout the country.

In Bemidji, it will be important to provide these supports for many of our students if we want to ensure that we meet the mission of “empowering all learners to succeed.” If we don’t, our society will pay the price down the road.

As we approach the next school year, you will hear more about school health and safety efforts including how we secure school buildings and entrances, but also how we will work to secure the social, emotional, and mental health needs of our students. If students do not feel safe and supported, they cannot learn.

School health and safety are a major part of our mission in Bemidji Area Schools.

Tim Lutz is superintendent of Bemidji Area Schools. He can be reached via email at tim_lutz@isd31.net .

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Bemidji Area Schools Superintendent Tim Lutz
Bemidji Area Schools Superintendent Tim Lutz. (Pioneer file photo)

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