Upgrades to Eagle County school buildings make them safer

Sitting around the board table during the past several Board of Education meetings, we have pondered our reactions to recent tragedies. How best could we react as a board? What could we possibly say to our community that could help ease the pain, the outrage, the suffering? How does one make sense of the pain that drives someone to take a life: that of another or their own? Our only option is to recognize our deep sadness over recent events and then continue to focus on the children, spreading our love and compassion for all students.

At Eagle County Schools, our mission is to teach the children of Eagle County to have creative and active minds, compassion for others, enthusiasm for lifelong learning and the courage to act on their dreams. Our mission inspires us to look to the future, as much as the present. With the help and support of our community, we work locally to insure a quality education for all and to give our teachers the tools they need for success: fair pay, manageable class sizes and robust professional development.

I continue to be grateful to live in a community that values the work we do. The funds provided by the 3A mill levy override approved by voters in 2016 are making a big difference. However, such as most districts in Colorado, we still have challenges ahead, and state funding for schools comes up short for all of us.

Recent events highlight the critical need for additional health care professionals and counselors at all levels; teachers require more time for collaboration and professional learning; and equitable technology access and smaller class sizes improve achievement outcomes for all students. Our challenge is to do the very best work possible with the resources we have.

During my school visits, I watch in awe as school leaders mindfully create school cultures that value compassion and understanding, as well as high-quality instruction and achievement for all students. I'm inspired by teachers working together to find best practices to reach individual children.

During intervention meetings, individual learners are discussed and strategies are devised to help them succeed. In planning meetings, educators collaborate as a team, sharing their successes and challenges. In classrooms, students are challenged and supported. You can feel the love in our buildings.

Our buildings are also safer now thanks to the investment by our community in our school construction bonds. We are well underway with the completion of more than $144 million in improvements. Some schools needed more renovations than others, but when work is finished, all schools will have secure entrances and upgraded security features, including surveillance cameras, card-key entries and monitoring systems.

We've installed upgraded energy-efficient lighting, new furniture and other facility improvements throughout schools that did not need major construction or renovations.

The safety and security of our students is our top priority. There is genuine caring and compassion in our schools, as well as intentional planning for safety. Our administration team is trained in National Incident Management Systems and active-shooter response procedures. We conduct regular drills for the unthinkable.

All schools maintain detailed emergency operations plans specific to the school building design and features. School leaders do what it takes to ensure that our schools are safe and caring places to be. You can feel the love from the staff and the seriousness with which they consider school safety.

Our job is not only to educate, but also to nurture the many diverse children in our care. All of us take this responsibility seriously and are humbled by the trust placed in us by families and the community. We value our partnerships and are grateful for the support given by so many. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the people and families personally impacted by recent tragedies. Please take a minute to share some love with a child, a neighbor or a stranger. Working together, we can make a difference.

Kate Cocchiarella is the president of the Board of Education of Eagle County Schools.