Superintendent's Letter to Parents

December 17, 2012

Dear Parents and Guardians,

The events of last week have dramatically impacted the nation and resonate through every household in our school district. I am sure that as a parent/guardian you share with our staff, feelings of sadness and bewilderment over the slaying of such innocent young children and heroic staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School last Friday. Like Sandy Hook Elementary School, the parents and staff of Banks School District have enjoyed a strong sense of safety and security for all students in our schools and campus areas. However, this event, coupled with the tragedy at the Clackamas shopping center, can shake our sense of confidence as to just where are we safe?

A strong sense of anxiety came over me as I drove past the elementary on the way home last Friday because I so very much want to be able to provide you, our students and our staff with an unequivocal promise that no harm shall come to anyone in our schools or on our campus. I cannot, regardless of how much you and I want to believe that such an event could not happen in Banks. I can only assure you that our safety protocols will once again be reviewed with administrators. They will talk with staff members to make sure everyone is on the same page with our plans. I will meet with police and fire officials to review coordination efforts. We will continue to do all we can to make our schools are as safe as they can be for everyone. There is nothing more important than the safety and well being of every student, this is job one for everyone.

Last Friday morning I spoke with two Washington County sheriff’s deputies, Officer Hanlon and Officer Tran. They were parked at the elementary school. The officers were there on their own accord. They simply wanted to provide a reassuring presence. As we spoke we were stunned at the updates from Sandy Hook ES in Newton, Connecticut. I was immediately struck by these officers’ strong professional and emotional investment in our town and schools. They both said that BES is where they want their young children to attend school. They commented on what a great city Banks is and what wonderful students and parents we have. They spoke of the professional and caring staff and administration we have working in all of our schools. They expressed their confidence that our children are as safe as they can be. I shared with them that this is the school district I would want my own grandchildren attending.

The recent events have not been cause for me to waver from my belief that schools remain very safe places for students. We cannot cure the ills of society that manifest in the form of such a horrific event in Newton. We would not be well served to allow this horrible event to define us or distract us from the wonderful things happening in our city and our schools.  But we can all do a very simple and powerful thing. We can be ever mindful of the need everyone has to feel loved, respected and cared for. All of our students need this from our staff, coaches, you and other community members. Please know how very proud I am of what our staff members and many coaches do each day to help students learn, grow and develop a strong sense of self-worth and purpose.

I offer some excerpts from columnist Eric Mortenson’s essay entitled Anguished Questions, One Gentle Answer. It may serve to offer some timely and thoughtful insight as we sort through this.

He asks, “What has happened to our young men? Why do they have no hope, no empathy, no response except rage to life’s frustrations and disappointments? How do we stop the next one? Ban guns and violent video games? Arm teachers like we do pilots? We ask again, but the answers to young shooters lie deep within their individual stories. Dr. Ajit Jetmalani, a child psychologist at OHSU says there are layer upon layer of underlying issues. We can’t get at them right now. We can’t do anything. Except maybe this, treat each other better. Because it is already too late when the angry young men come in with their guns. We will dig in to try to understand it; we’ll look for trauma, bullying, themes of isolation, previous bad behavior, emerging signs of depression or schizophrenia. Toss in a media and entertainment culture dripping with violence. What do parents do with a teenage son who is playing first-person shooting games six hours a day? Anger and dread and questions. What do we do with this most recent event? Check your pulse. Tell your kids it’s a really sad, terrible thing, and you need to stick together. Maybe you give the homeless guy on the corner a nod instead of a sneer. Maybe you let that car into your lane. We should be focused on loving acts toward others, because that’s what we can control.”

During this holiday season, events of this nature remind us that we have much to be thankful for.

Thank you for your continuing confidence in our school district and our staff. Parenting is no easy task, especially in times like this. Thank you for all you have done since this event to help your child feel confident, safe and secure coming to school each day.

Please accept my wishes for you and your family to have a joyous holiday season.

Bob Huston
Superintendent, Banks School District