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How Immaculate Heart of Mary administrators saved time and benefited from outside safety audits

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Exterior stone and signage for the Immaculate Heart of Mary School in Indianapolis

K-8 Catholic school in Indianapolis works through safety planning, documentation, and de-escalation exercises as a team

Immaculate Heart of Mary is a private, Catholic school located on the near northside of Indianapolis. The school teaches just under 500 K-8 students.  The school contacted VPC because they needed written, reviewed, and thorough emergency preparedness plans and documentation for school safety and accreditation.

Challenge: lack of documentation

Solution: a full review + training

Results: time saved and better buy-in

Non-existent documentation of emergency procedures

“Kyle [Burkholder] and I have been Principal and Vice Principal here for two years, going into our third. A couple of years ago when we were doing staff training, we didn’t have one place where we could find a written summary of what we do during a tornado drill, a lockdown, or a fire drill. The staff all knew what to do pretty well, and the procedures existed. But for new staff we needed something in the handbook.”

— Chris Kolakovich, Principal, Immaculate Heart of Mary School

Administrators at Immaculate Heart of Mary in central Indianapolis get a template from the Archdiocese that is the same template every Catholic school receives. But when Chris Kolakovich and Kyle Burkholder were hired in 2021, those plans were too generic and documents were non-existent for new staff.

Past administrators and school resource officers knew the procedures, seemingly handed down verbally from year to year, but Kolakovich and Burkholder needed more robust, professionalized planning and audits.

A full review combined with robust on-site de-escalation training

“We reached out to Vantage Point Consulting [VPC] and asked them to look from the outside at our procedures and then come up with an easy-to-read format we could put in our handbooks to let people know what to do during emergencies and drills.”

— Chris Kolakovich, Principal, Immaculate Heart of Mary School

Immaculate Heart of Mary’s School Safety Committee meets monthly with administrators, teachers, staff, and parents. During one of these meetings, the committee pushed for a fresh, new, and comprehensive review of all of the school’s tornado, active threat, and fire safety plans.

“We really wanted someone to take the lead on writing the documentation,” says Kolakovich.

In addition, faculty and staff expressed interest in de-escalation training.

“Students today are more and more likely to experience heightened emotions at school and that was useful. Dwight [Frost] did a nice job getting into real de-escalation exercises with us, role-playing in groups as a student and offering feedback,” says Kolakovich.

The de-escalation exercises forced staff to confront a student upset about discipline, using threatening language, and becoming physically aggressive.

The staff from the connected Parish also took part, along with custodians and administrative staff. “We included them in this training. It’s eye-opening for them as they don’t have as many training requirements to review plans every year, but it gets them thinking,” says Kolakovich.

School staff save time and benefit from experienced third-party perspective

“As administrators, Kyle and I can talk about the importance of safety and go through those things with teachers, but when someone that has a background in law enforcement comes in, it really increases that level of engagement for the teachers.”

— Chris Kolakovich, Principal, Immaculate Heart of Mary School

VPC conducted a thorough walk-through of the facility, reviewing exits and the building’s layout, talking with administrators and staff, and studying building capacity and exit efficiency. Within a few months, Immaculate Heart of Mary’s safety committee received a draft copy of the plans and procedures, including maps.

“Everyone got a copy,” says Kolakovich. “And because of the work of prior administrators, we’ve had a number of safety upgrades that were taken into consideration.”

He adds, “We reviewed the drafts with the staff, and we agreed that Troy [Jester] and VPC did a great job. When we were reviewing, we had a little internal confusion that affected some staff in how we label and refer to various stairwells and areas.”

Internally, staff realized ‘I thought we went here and there’ was not necessarily best practice or clear for some, such as which stairwells to use during a tornado.

“We came up with our own numbering system that made sense to us,” says Kolakovich, basing much of the labeling on internal culture that has referred to areas by historical reference and staff awareness. Troy was listening and working with us the whole time to make those happen and make the language work for our staff.”

Now, Immaculate Heart of Mary’s Safety Committee reviews these plans regularly. New staff and substitutes have a single, simple document in their handbook that explains procedures, including how to keep students safe during emergencies. Kolakovich knows they’re up to date when he checks off legally required assurances that the school is taking safety seriously for accreditation, too.

The school is considering tabletop exercises for future review to test what happens if a stairwell becomes blocked during an emergency or other possible “what if?” scenarios. Thanks to Dwight Frost’s law enforcement and first response experience, staff continue to benefit from learning what’s happened in other schools.

Kolakovich notes, “It would have been hard to find time to do this well ourselves. That’s what’s great about VPC; we could talk with them about what the finished product needed to be, and Troy and Dwight listened well. They made it simple.”

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