School transparency: Principal Brandon Dade

Principal Dade:

Can you provide detail about the system behind the emails and notifications?

“We have a messaging system called ConnectEd Blackboard messaging behind the scenes other than our website, and that’s where students get all info from. The website is an additional layer of communication. In emergency situations, many won’t go to a website. What we’ve learned now is to use ConnectEd messaging, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

If there were a disaster such as a major earthquake, we would use those four different entities to communicate. That’s why I’m encouraging people to get onto social media, because when something goes wrong, we really want to make sure that we have multiple ways to communicate. In emergency situations, the social media accounts would have a paragraph or two explaining situation in keeping everyone safe. [In general], the emails are very concise inform of certain upcoming events. The social media accounts are mostly for celebrating student activities that happen after events.”


How do you decide which events to focus on when sending out short email alerts?

“We try to give [information] in small pieces, and we don’t discriminate against any students or any groups. If a student is trying to fundraise for a cause, we want the community to know. I may put the event on the Friday Forecast and send a quick update email.”


Can you describe the process of how information about general school events is broadcasted?

“We have leadership team [faculty] meetings every Monday, where we review all the activities and events that take place that week. We communicate what should be released to the community and students. The process is continuous throughout the week; people come talk to me about events, teachers email me and ask if I can send information out, and I evaluate and send it to the leadership team. We try to plan at least three to five days in advance [of the events].

We also have a live document, which is the calendar tab on the website. All of the different groups I work with in leadership and campus put their activities on there. Events must [be present] on calendar for me to release notice. [This process] triggers the conversation of communication and collaboration that keeps the students’ interests in mind.”


How do you think your voice impacts the Walnut community?

“I think [my words] impact the community deeply. Parents thank me for sending out the Mustang Friday Forecast. Sometimes, we are in a world where we are used to getting things on social media and through our phones, but then we get an email saying ‘oh, check our website out’, and there is so much information and so many places to go. I try to keep the Mustang Friday Forecast really concise to one page. If an alert is too long, people won’t read it. Sometimes I’ll send out just one topic theme; keep it short and to the point, and people will be able to comprehend easily.”


In events that concern student safety, how do you determine what information to include in your emails and disperse to the student body?

“When it comes to safety issues, such as the missing student, we have a crisis information officer at the district that the superintendent designates depending on who’s available at the time of of crisis.

[We work with] the law enforcement and superintendent to see what information can be disseminated because sometimes [we] don’t want to disrupt an investigation by sending out the wrong info or alarm people and put them in a crisis mode. It’s always a strategic collaboration on what info to send out.

If it’s a safety issue, we want to be respectful to the family of who is involved, respectful to the experts of law enforcement, and respectful to the students on campus, because sometimes [we] can bring people into that high anxiety or into the crisis when they are not involved.

Other times when I am sending out information, I try to keep it student-centered, because that is what we’re here for. Any info we can disseminate to the parents to support the students is what I’m focusing on each week.”


How does the school administration tread the balance between keeping students informed and protecting the privacies of the involved parties?

“We lean on the experts. If we have a safety issue, there are people trained from law enforcement on how to spread info and keep order and everyone safe. We want to give a very calm and clear message to parents in the community and would talk to a commander from the police station or the district about the information we have to send right away. [We] want to be honest about the level of safety on campus at that time and give very clear steps to how to protect that safe environment. We have to know where we are at and provide an action plan to how to get everybody back to that ultimate safety on campus.”


What are some of the steps taken by the administration if an armed weapon were to appear on campus?

“We are led by police department, and they have a strategic plan about how to keep everyone safe and how to keep armed weapons contained. We follow protocol, but the police are definitely thinking the same things that we are thinking, which how much information we can give to parents and students to help them understand what we’re doing to regain a safe environment.”


How about the missing student case?

“We work with law enforcement as well and are really at mercy with the parents of that particular student and the police department. We have to see what information we have and what information we send out to community that can help us find the young man or woman as quick as possible. I take the information and work with information officer at the district. We try to script it and send out information that would get everyone involved but not panic everybody.”


What is some of the feedback you have received for your emails?

“There are positive responses from parents, such as ‘Thank you for letting us know, you made us feel better that the rumors we were hearing were not necessarily true and you brought clarification.’ But there are parents who want to be more involved and want to know everything, and they won’t be happy until they feel like they have all of the information. We sit down with those parents and say that we cannot give [them] certain information because there was an investigation, or the family doesn’t want to give out details. There’s always more to the story, but we want to give info to the Walnut community that can help the situation.

For example, for the missing student incident, we knew we would find that student, and that student would have to return to campus one day. If we were to give out all the information that I had found out about, we would be sharing information that doesn’t help the student. He or she might not want to come back to campus because he or she is too embarrassed. There’s always a little bit more [information], but we have to filter information that would help the individuals. Sometimes, in other situations, the students and their families may need help, but we don’t need to tell everyone that. It’s more about just making sure we get students home safely.”