By Starla Pointer • Staff Writer • 

Twister makes local educators think

In the aftermath, they’re looking at it as a learning experience. “We say, ‘What would I do in that situation? What can we learn so that no child dies if a disaster happens here?’” said Maryalice Russell, McMinnville superintendent.

Schools in her district have plans in place for dealing with emergency situations, whether caused by the weather or related to intruders or crime. They practice regularly. But it’s important to keep training and thinking about how best to respond, she said.

Russell was one of four finalists for the national superintendent of the year title earlier this year. Another finalist was the superintendent of the Joplin, Mo., school system, where several schools were destroyed by tornadoes May 19, 2011.

When they discussed safety preparedness, Russell said, the Joplin superintendent told her his district’s plans had included having students and staff take shelter in the hallway. That way, he said, they would be as far as possible from windows, which could be blown out by tornado winds.

School was not in session when the devastating tornadoes hit. But video cameras recorded chaotic scenes of dangerous debris flying and hall walls failing — convincing them they need to rethink their plans and find another place to have people wait out a storm.

Similarly, Russell said, local educators need to keep rethinking.

“We have to go through a lot of scenarios, so we can think quickly on our feet when something happens, modify and adjust based on what’s happening,” she said.

McMinnville is not likely to be hit by a tornado, but local schools need to be ready for whatever happens. In the last 20 years, following the Spring Break Quake that left the old Columbus School unusable, the district has retrofitted and improved its older buildings to make them more earthquake safe.

Future construction will take earthquake and weather safety into consideration, Russell said.

“Yes, it will add to the construction costs,” she said. “But it’s just like having to do things because of building code updates ... and no cost is too great if it saves a life.”

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