School safety

The West Valley Safety Coalition partnered with local first responders to ensure that its students, staff, families and communities are educated about safety measures during crisis situations. (Avondale Elementary School District/Submitted)

Several West Valley school districts have united to advocate for school safety education in its communities.

The Agua Fria High, Avondale Elementary and Litchfield Elementary school districts recently launched the West Valley Safety Coalition. 

In partnership with local first responders, it aims to ensure that students, staff and families are well-informed about safety measures during crises. 

“We have a very strong collaboration between the three districts, certainly serving the same families, and want to have that continuity of communication,” said Dr. Betsy Hargrove, Avondale Elementary School District superintendent. 

“Knowing how critically important safety and wellness is for all of our communities, we felt that the best way for us to move forward is to highlight that as one of our collaborative efforts.”

The safety coalition is the first to emerge in West Valley, consisting of superintendents, administrators and educators from the three districts.

They collaborate with first responders and safety training professionals in their communities, which includes police and fire departments in Avondale, Goodyear, Buckeye, Agua Fria and Phoenix.

“I’m incredibly impressed with the collaborative nature of our first responders anyway, but then to have a layer of that to have us all in the same room, it really informs all of us as far as what the expectations and responsibilities for each one of those organizations are,” Hargrove said.

Despite the coalition’s youth, its organizers have already reached out to neighboring districts and first responders to be more inclusive and collaborative, expanding its reach to the entire span of Southwest Valley.

Altogether, their mission is to strengthen and spread awareness about safety protocols, practices, drills and resources in its schools’ communities to ensure that they can work with stakeholders in the occurrence of an unprecedented event.

Organizers plan to build upon practices already in place and implement new technologies and opportunities to enhance school safety. They have created a planning group that is organizing a summit to convene again, which will feature speakers sharing their individual experiences and opportunities to brainstorm ideas.

Committees will also meet and keep in touch with educators, staff and families while providing safety education for students throughout the year.

The key to fortifying and expanding its safety measures, according to Hargrove, is a strong connectivity and effective communication between students, staff, families, first responders and their surrounding communities. All entities must act in concert with one another in order for protocols and practices to be effective.

“In situations that could present themselves, we want to make sure that all of the players know who does what and the rationale behind them,” she said.

To help establish stronger relationships between the school districts and community members, first responders and city entities hope to open up simulation opportunities.

“We believe that it’s everyone’s responsibility to be a part of this and to work together. For the safety of all of us, it’s going to take all of us, and we are so much better together,” Hargrove said.

District leaders discussed school safety in the community on an episode of “AESD Scoop,” the Avondale district’s podcast. It can be accessed on Spotify.