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Safety Specialist Covers All the Bases at Knapp

In the past 24 years at Knapp Charter Academy, one constant has been Julie Wernstrom – in many capacities.

As the school registrar she handles various requests and records and was the athletic director for six years. Naturally, with all the different hats she has worn in her time at Knapp, she also is the school safety specialist, which requires accounting for and managing many variables.

“Safety is a team effort and at Knapp we continually work together to make Knapp safe and efficient,” Wernstrom said. “We follow procedures, ask questions, find solutions that work for Knapp to make it safe and make the students, staff, and visitors safe while they are in our building.”
Students sitting at assembly.Knapp Charter Academy participated in Safe Schools Week in October.

Wernstrom’s time at Knapp began as a parent. Each of her three children went to Knapp, which was appealing because of the smaller class sizes. She liked the teaching of Moral Focus virtues and back to basics learning so much that she began volunteering and was part of boosters committee. When a position opened up in the office, she jumped at the opportunity.
When an area of need arises at Knapp, Wernstrom often is there to help. When the athletic director position became available, her 23 years as a volleyball coach made her a logical choice. And when the safety specialist role was being added, it only made sense for her to assume the title with many of the logistics going through the office, such as signing in volunteers and scheduling drills.
For the school’s first fire drill, Wernstrom will give the staff a heads up so they can prepare the kids. For the rest of the year, everything is unannounced with the goal of getting people mentally ready for different scenarios. When the fire department is present for the drill, the firemen stand in the halls and act as an actual fire in front of possible exit paths, prompting students to come up with another plan.
“I try to come from every aspect of it. ‘What if this was to happen?’ I try to throw scenarios to staff,” Wernstrom said. “They have to think on their feet and take the steps they are supposed to. Then, following those procedures, they say “I know there’s another exit this way.’”
It’s Wernstrom’s job to make sure teachers are accounting for students, which she will test by sometimes pulling a kid out of the fire drill line to see if the teacher notices when they get to the parking lot to take attendance. Every detail matters, and it’s part of the reason Knapp has outperformed the local district for 13 years.
“Julie builds on her knowledge of school safety,” said National Heritage Academies Senior Safety and Health Specialist Dani Phillips. “Running a school emergency drill is just not checking a box for Julie. Julie is a strategic thinker. As she watches a drill unfold, she is analyzing a variety of scenarios and evaluating the effectiveness of equipment, such as flow of students through an exit and how doors are closing.”
Keep up the excellent work, Mrs. Wernstrom!
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About Knapp Charter Academy
Knapp Charter Academy is a tuition-free, public charter school in Grand Rapids, Michigan, serving students in Young 5s through eighth grade. It is part of the National Heritage Academies network, which includes more than 100 tuition-free, public charter schools serving more than 65,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade across nine states. For more information, visit

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