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What I Saw and What The USA TODAY Missed About Back to School in Santa Fe, Texas

I am somewhat annoyed with the USA TODAY.

I read their story about Santa Fe High School in Santa Fe Texas. (I’ve provided a link at the end of this blog). This past May this school district, as one administrator put it, “joined a club that no one wants to be a member of.” Santa Fe was the most Santa Fe Strong T-Shirtrecent school shooting tragedy leaving students and teachers dead and wounded. Most of us cannot even fathom the experience and aftermath. I looked into the eyes of the people who lived it.

I was at the Santa Fe School District last week. I had the honor of being asked to be the keynote speaker at the back to school convocation for district staff. I will say to you now, that it will forever be among the most poignant, spiritual and uplifting experiences of my life. That is why the USA TODAY article irritates me. I feel compelled to give you another perspective.

If you read the article, you come away with the impression that the school district has not done enough to increase security-that they have been unresponsive to their community. That they are making decisions in secret.  As most quasi-journalists do, they find the disgruntled, the recalcitrant, and Lord help us, the “experts,” all who have an opinion and a better idea for a small school district of 5000 students and their coping with this horrible tragedy.

At one point, the article stated: “Until they make a paradigm shift away from response and focus on prevention, they’re not going to stop these.” This would lead you to believe that the school district has been nothing but reactionary and have not considered next steps to avoid these issues in the future. This comment was attributed to an energy consultant “working with parents to assess security at the school.”

Well, I’m here to tell you, they have. I know, because I was there. I listened to countless stories. I watched tears well up in everyone’s eyes as they talked about the need to move forward. I hugged half the auditorium and teared up right along with them. These are people who are resilient, who absolutely refuse to let this tragedy define them. The motivational montage they showed at the beginning of the convocation was both somber, honoring those that had died, and uplifting about moving their school district forward, one step at a time. They have national support. You could hear a pin drop and then, a wave of applause and cheers. Santa Fe was back.

Yes, they have done a great deal with security and processes. They will soon acquire high-tech monitoring ability to understand when threats on social media occur. They have installed metal detectors and panic buttons. Their psychologists and staff are working to put systems into place to be proactive when threats occur. They have worked arm-in-arm with local and state authorities and listened intently to everything they have been told. They have communicated with their community. Read their website. Just the night before the convocation, there was a standing-room only crowd of parents listening to security upgrades, expectations, and new procedures. So much for not communicating their plan.

But here is what is most impressive: They understand that fundamentally, security gates, metal detectors, panic buttons and every other piece of equipment you can think of won’t stop a tragedy. At best, it will slow one down. What they understand is that relationships and engagement have more power.

They want to build strong, trusting relationships with all of their families. They want to be inclusive of their entire community. They understand that engagement is the emotional tie that is necessary to help avoid a recurrence of this horrific event. They understand human nature. They understand that investing in people and relationships is as important, if not more important, than bullet proof glass. And so, they began their year on that note.

The site of the shooting has been completely transformed. The school plans, at some point, to open up a wellness center, a place where students can go and share concerns and frustrations, where families can get support and where school personnel can intervene. If this is not an example of prevention, then, I don’t know what is. Walking by those rooms, I could only try and imagine what occurred. It took my breath away. Knowing that the future of that space is dedicated to healing, well, it’s spiritual.

I met their superintendent, Dr. Leigh Wall. She is a gracious, unassuming lady, but you can see both the pain and passion in her eyes as well as the determination to lead this district out of this very dark chapter. And leading, she is. She, along with every staff member sported their green Santa Fe T shirts with the message “Santa Fe Strong.”  She spoke eloquently to the staff. She is a class act and it was my honor to meet her. I have received a lot of gifts in my travels, but I consider my green Santa Fe T shirt among my prized possessions. (A picture of it appears with this blog).

At the very end of the article, the USA TODAY did see it fit to provide a modicum of balance. They interviewed a parent of a sophomore who was “chomping at the bit” to get back to school. That is the sentiment of the vast majority of the community and that is clearly the sentiment of the staff. Is there emotion? Of course. Is there fear and trepidation? Absolutely. But, school opened yesterday and I bet there were thousands of hugs and tears by the end of first period.

I promised the staff that I would share their story with the world. I promised them that I would deliver one important message: The Santa Fe School district will be just fine. They are moving forward.

That’s what is really happening in Santa Fe, Texas. Santa Fe Strong? Indeed, they are.

https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2018/08/20/santa-fe-high-texas-school-shooting-back-school/1030660002/