Message from Superintendent of Schools Sandra "Sam" Himmel

Superintendent Sandra "Sam" Himmel

Our Commitment To Safety 

Even though summer break is far from over, we here at the Citrus County School District always use the summertime to reflect on the experiences from previous years to identify areas we can improve.  We have been diligently working on curriculum and maintenance needs across the district, and most importantly, being proactive in upgrading security measures on our school campuses.

First, we’d like to thank the Citrus County Board of County Commissioners for their continued support in making sure funding is available to allow for a School Resource Officer to remain on each of our school campuses.  We see tremendous value in this resource and hope this program continues for many years to come.  

After the tragic events that unfolded in February 2018, in accordance with state mandates, we immediately appointed Cheri Cernich as our School Safety Specialist.  She promptly facilitated the safety and security recommendations put forth by SB 7026.  Here is a brief list of some of the measures we have implemented to ensure students and staff are safe while on campus:

  • Safety and security district level committee which meets monthly.The team, made up of one school board member, district administration, and local law enforcement constantly review areas of concern and looking for ways to improve.
  • Implemented Threat Assessment Teams, made up of at a minimum - school administration, law enforcement, guidance counselors, and student services personnel.This team analyzes specific threats made to the school and determines what steps are taken to reduce the threat and makes appropriate referrals for service.
  • Prior to being mandated by law, we toured every campus with safety specialists from Florida School Boards Insurance Trust, which conducted a safety audit at each of our schools.
  • Increased number of active shooter drills at each school site.
  • Applied for and received DOE grant monies to harden school campuses including, but not limited to: perimeter fencing, adding and upgrading cameras, and access control.
  • Conducted Security Risk Assessments at all 22 school sites.
  • Reviewed and revised the Safe School Plan at each school site which is updated annually and submitted by each school to be reviewed by the District Safety Specialist.
  • Behavioral Health Program Specialist: provides appropriate training and resources to students and staff in the areas of social, emotional and behavioral health.
  • Developed a Quick Reference Guide for each school staff member which includes specific plans for a wide array of emergencies that might occur on campus.
  • Annual school safety checklist conducted by school principal and law enforcement.

I want to thank Mrs. Cernich for the tremendous job she has done in this role as she retires later this week.  Police Chief Buddy Grant will now take over all School Safety Specialist roles and responsibilities.  With the help of Mrs. Cernich, and utilizing Mr. Grant’s expertise in law enforcement – the district has already strengthened its security plans in how we respond and prepare for an emergency.  Together, we will continue to be diligent in keeping students and staff safe while also keeping all stakeholders informed on safety matters to the extent permitted by law.

In addition to the Department of Education School Hardening Grant, the district has applied for multiple safety and security grants and completed initial security assessments on our public-school campuses.  Before school begins, safety reviews will be conducted on every campus with members of Fire Rescue, EMS and local law enforcement.  The School Board approved Chief Grant hiring nine school safety guardians who are currently finishing up their training and will be ready on the first day of school.  These guardians will serve as an additional layer of security to our already present School Resource Officers, and will undoubtedly enhance the security presence on our campuses.

In addition to maintaining the current SRO program and school guardians, we will also have safety volunteers.  These un-armed volunteers will be highly visible on school campuses with responsibilities including campus and perimeter security checks.  The safety volunteer will work with school administration and other school personnel to ensure various safety measures are being utilized daily.   If you are interested in this vital role, we encourage you to visit www.citrusschools.org and click on the employment tab.  There you can fill out an application and get more information on position requirements.  Please call Chief Grant with any questions at 352-726-1931 ext. 2308.

Beyond armed security or any other safety measure, nothing is more important to minimizing violence than preparation.  The start of the school year will be the second year we have implemented ALICE in our schools.  ALICE, stands for Alert, Lock down, Inform, Counter, and Evacuate.  I am excited to share that the Citrus County School District has earned the distinction of being an ALICE certified school district.  The goal of the training is to teach students and staff strategies which will increase the likelihood of survival in the event of an armed intruder in one of our schools.  All current CCSB employees have completed online, face–to–face and hands-on practical ALICE training with ongoing training for new personnel who are hired within the district.

Even with these security upgrades in place, I believe it’s critically important for all teachers and staff to maintain solid relationships with their students.  We strongly encourage staff to develop trusting relationships with students, who often hear about threats well before administration.  Even though we have implemented several security upgrades throughout our district, we still rely heavily on the commitment from students and parents to report anything suspicious they see or hear immediately to administration or law enforcement.  Students have two apps available to them on their school issued iPads: FortifyFL and Campus Crime Stoppers which allow students to provide a description of the threat, share pictures and videos, and give authorities information which can immediately stop a threat. 

Our students’ safety and security are of paramount importance and as your Superintendent, this is a guiding principal of which I will never compromise.  Furthermore, I will never allow personal issues or politics to get in the way of the safety and security of our students.  While it is unfortunate, it is necessary for the talk of school safety to remain at the forefront of discussions.  We all must engage in the dialogue and work diligently together.

Schools are accountable for student safety from the time each student steps onto the school bus until the end of the day when each student gets off the bus to return home.  Safe school districts are the cornerstone of a strong community and we work hard to maintain the highest level of safety in the Citrus County School District.  We will continue to engage and seek the input from all stakeholders to help ensure the learning experience is safe, meaningful and enjoyable for our students.  It is an honor to serve as your Superintendent of Schools and to be part of a community which cares so deeply for its children.

 

Thank you for your support,

Sandra “Sam” Himmel

Superintendent of Schools