New push for school safety

Associate superintendent to oversee emergency management

One lasting image from the Interstate 35W bridge collapse may be that of the yellow school bus leaning against the guardrail on a fallen section of bridge deck.

The story of the nine adults and 52 children ages 5–14, who survived the Aug. 1 disaster and escaped the school bus, attracted national attention. For Minneapolis Public Schools officials, it was a stark reminder of the need to be ready for any type of emergency.

With that in mind, district officials created a new, permanent position to oversee emergency management. Area C Superintendent Craig Vana will lead district emergency planning and coordinate preparedness efforts with city, state and federal agencies.

Chief Academic Officer Bernadeia Johnson said recent emergency planning efforts were led by a series of contract workers, including retired principals. Now, the district has selected one person to lead planning efforts long-term and develop what Johnson called “a coherent strategy.”

“When that bridge collapsed, it just kind of brought home the importance of having safe learning environments and also [safe] working environments for our staff,” she said.

In the aftermath of the bridge collapse, city leaders have been lauded for their coordinated response to the disaster. Rocco Forte, the city’s director of emergency preparedness, in particular, has been commended for his work in directing city employees during the recovery effort.

City staff have also undergone extensive emergency preparedness training. Minneapolis also has one of the best radio systems in the country, which facilitated communication between city departments after the bridge collapse.

Vana said his job would be to plan for any emergency that could disrupt student learning, from a school shooting to an outbreak of pandemic flu. He will also coordinate the use of school resources — such as buses or school buildings — that might be needed in the case of a local disaster.

Vana will remain an assistant superintendent, but a replacement will be chosen to oversee schools in Area C, which encompasses Southwest.

Bill Anderson, a city emergency management coordinator, said Vana was a good choice for the job.

In August, Anderson and Vana both attended a three-day emergency response training session in Minneapolis led by the National Emergency Response and Training Center from Texas A&M University, a nationally recognized preparedness training team. District principals and administrators also attended the session for crisis management training.

“We were talking about some very fundamental and important concepts related to how an incident [at a school] would be managed,” Anderson said.

Vana said much of his work in August focused on “tweaking” school crisis management plans and making them uniform across the district. That way, when fire or police officials respond to an emergency call at a school, “they know what to expect,” he said.

Anderson said these joint training efforts are an important opportunity for emergency planning leaders in local government and the schools to meet face to face.

“The reality is that most of the major incidents that you can imagine — a major tornado event, a major pandemic flu incident, an act of terrorism — they would require more than the resources of just the city or the schools, so it’s important to have those relationships established before something occurs,” Anderson said.

Vana said his connections in local government would give him a leg up in his new assignment.

“I have very good relationships with the people in the city, with the county and at the state level, so I can get myself connected really quickly,” he said.

Prior to working as Area C superintendent, Vana was principal at Edison High School and Folwell Middle School, an assistant principal at Southwest High School and executive director of the district’s Teacher and Instructional Services
department.

Johnson said Vana’s extensive experience in the district was also important to his selection for the new position.

“We really needed someone who understands schools,” she said.

Johnson said the district’s mission — to educate — can’t be put on hold during a disaster. She said part of Vana’s job will be to answer this important question: “If something happened where people lost their homes or schools had to be closed or people couldn’t come to school, how would we make sure that learning
continues?”