When I sat down to talk with John McDonald, a nationally-recognized school security expert, I knew I had to share some of his thoughts and lessons with you. So I recorded our conversation and edited down some key points for you. This is the first conversation in a series we’re calling “The Sound Off.” More on that later this year…
Back to John. This man is quite simply, incredible.
Even though John joined Jefferson County after the Columbine shooting, he has endured three horrendous experiences… things we hope nobody else has to go through… one abduction and two shootings. Suffice it to say, we can all learn from John. He has so much experience, working for 10-plus years in his community, honing communications, processes, and overall security. He knows what works, and what doesn’t.
Sure, John’s commitment to his school community is impressive. But his accomplishments highlight the importance of having someone dedicated to school safety. From the assessments, training, and ongoing discussions he drives, John is involving the whole community and changing perceptions about school safety.
We all thank you, John, for all you do to keep these school communities safe. You are a beacon of strength, a foundation of hope, and thread of connection helping to keep your community strong.
Alissa Parker, Co-founder of Safe and Sound Schools
By Kevin Quinn
There has been much talk about school safety and active shooters. One solution discussed at great lengths is arming school staff to deter and respond to an active shooter. Some people say the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. I wish it were that easy, but there are several considerations to take when the topic of arming school staff members arises. For today’s blog, I will discuss two primary issues, identification and training. In Part 2 of this blog post, I will cover the remaining issues.
As a police officer, I wear a uniform that identifies me to other officers and the public. Even if responders can’t see my face, they know I am not the suspect and can react accordingly when locating the threat. Unfortunately, teachers do not dress any differently than regular civilians and do not stand out in a crowd at a school – especially high schools and colleges where the students are older than elementary school students.
Furthermore, when officers arrive at the scene of an active shooter, our first goal is to end the violence. As we attempt to locate the suspect, we look for someone with a weapon. Imagine we come across Mr. Jones, the math teacher, in the hallway with his gun drawn. Chances are, Mr. Jones will be detained until his identity can be confirmed. That is, of course, if Mr. Jones doesn’t react in a way the officers deem a threat. In that case, there is a possibility of injury. But here’s another alarming variable –time – precious time that officers should be spending locating and apprehending the suspect.
How much training will the armed staff members receive when the program is put into place? How much on-going annual training will they receive? How many hours will a staff member train before being allowed to carry a gun in schools? Depending on the location in the country, I have heard everything from eight to 24 hours of firearms training. It is important to realize that being able to shoot holes in paper does NOT mean you are ready for a potential deadly-force encounter. That readiness comes with intensive force-on-force training, decision-making scenarios, and high-stress combat shooting.
As you can see, identification and training alone raise several questions we need to consider before deciding to arm our school staff members. Look for Part 2 of the blog post, later this week.
Kevin Quinn is a 20-year veteran police officer and SRO in Arizona and the former President of the National Association of School Resource Officers. He is the current President of the Arizona School Resource Officers Association as well as an advisor to several school safety organizations. He can be reached on Twitter @klah316 or email email@example.com.
January, February, and March have come and gone with Safe and Sound Schools bringing its message to new communities and new social media channels.
This year’s first quarter started with the culmination of the Shine A Light for Safer Schools campaign, the holiday fundraiser we launched last November. Safe and Sound Schools raised over $3,500 through online and mail donations, some of which has already been used to update our free online materials and website.
By mid January, Safe and Sound Schools turned its focus to onboarding new students from PRLab, Boston University’s student-run public relations agency. This is Safe and Sound Schools’ fourth time working with PRLab students who help the organization meet its outreach initiatives. We are lucky to have such great talent from BU to support our growing organization!
In the months of February and March, Safe and Sound team members travelled to several communities across the country. Michele travelled across the state of Tennessee, presenting to full houses of school administrators, educators, mental health professionals, and law enforcement in Knoxville, Murfreesboro, and Jackson, Tennessee. She then made her way to the Midwest to present to an audience of over 150 at the 2016 Tuscarawas County School Safety Summit in Tuscarawas County, Ohio. Michele concluded her February travels in Baltimore, Maryland. Joined by her husband, Bob Gay, Michele accepted a $20,000 endowment award from the BFG Community Foundation, an organization dedicated to affecting positive change in local communities by supporting charitable organizations.
In early March, Frank DeAngelis, Safe and Sound speaker & former principal of Columbine High School and Paul Timm, Safe and Sound advisor & author of School Security: How to Build and Strengthen a School Safety Program, presented at the Axis School Safety Symposium in Syracuse, NY. On the same day, Michele traveled back to the South, to Decatur, Alabama, where she presented to a room of approximately 400 administrators, educators, law enforcement, and mental health professionals at the 14th Annual Alabama Child Safety Conference.
By mid March, Safe and Sound Schools launched it’s new website, complete with new additions, including a Press Room, Speaker’s Bureau, and an improved user-friendly interface. We’ll continue to add to the site this year.
March also found us busy in Massachusetts, with Michele attending the Massachusetts Juvenile Police Officers Association conference and working with three local school districts, to support the unique efforts of each community to improve school safety. We are excited to see our collaborative model take hold close to home and across the country!
Communications efforts continued with Safe and Sound Schools using social media platforms to celebrate social work month, highlighting and celebrating the contributions and positive impact social workers have on school safety and children. We concluded March and social work month with featured guest blogger & Safe and Sound Schools advisor, Shari Nacson, a Cleveland-based clinical social worker specializing in child development.
To keep up with Safe and Sound Schools daily, connect with us on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and now, Instagram. Stay tuned for more about our spring travels and additions to our new speaker’s bureau in the next quarter.
Donation to fund school safety programs in Maryland
Baltimore, Md. – February 29, 2016 – BFG Community Foundation, Inc., during their 2016 Champion in Life Gala, bestowed a $20,000 endowment award to Safe and Sound Schools in recognition of its ongoing efforts to educate communities about proactive school safety measures.
With this endowment award, Safe and Sound Schools will establish a School Safety Series exclusively for Maryland school districts. During this education initiative, Safe and Sound will be able to impart important lessons about better planning, management and recovery strategies to improve a community’s resiliency during a school-based emergency.
“The Safe and Sound Schools team has courageously shared the lessons learned from the tragic Newtown shooting and created a growing movement focused on improving school safety,” said Michael O. Brooks, Chairman and CEO of BFG Community Foundation. “Bringing this wisdom and expertise to Maryland schools will help create a stronger, safer learning environment for our students and their educators and families.”
Safe and Sound Schools will unveil specific plans for the School Safety Series over the coming months, but aims to reach a minimum of five districts and 500 educators, with the power to impact thousands of Maryland students.
“Support from philanthropic leaders like the BFG Community Foundation will have a lasting impact on schools by making is possible for us to bring vital assessments, tools and resources to local communities,” said Michele Gay, executive director and co-founder of Safe and Sound Schools. “I am so grateful for BFG Community Foundation’s endowment award, not only for the impact it will have on Maryland communities, but for the organization’s commitment to improving school safety.”
For more information about Safe and Sound Schools, including free assessment tools, tool kits and resources, visit www.safeandsoundschools.org.
About Safe and Sound Schools
Safe and Sound Schools is a non-profit organization founded by Sandy Hook parents who lost their children during the Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy. Winner of the 2015 SBANE New England Innovation Award for nonprofits, Safe and Sound Schools is dedicated to empowering communities to improve school safety through discussion, collaboration, planning, and sharing of information, tools, and resources. To get involved, visit www.safeandsoundschools.org.
Tomorrow it will be three years since our daughters’ deaths at Sandy Hook School. Three years since Emilie, Joey, eighteen of their classmates, and six of their teachers, were killed. Three years since our lives, and countless others, were forever changed.
An intruder shot out a window beside the front door of our school; and stepped through, intent on destroying us all. In many ways, he succeeded.
Yet, here we stand—with so many others beside us. Family, friends, community members, survivors and families who also lost loved ones that day. We have been joined by others—across the country and throughout the world—in support of one another and in search of a better way.
We lost our daughters that day. Yet, somehow, we continue to find them every day—in the memories our families share, in the healing relationships we’ve formed, and in our mission to empower a nation of safer school communities. Our children light the way.
What started as a small group, gathered around the Parker family’s kitchen table, has grown into a national network of stakeholders: school communities and organizations, parents, students, educators, and professionals in the fields of mental health, law enforcement, safety, security, and fire safety—all working together to make schools safer. Our practical tools, resources, and programs are making their way to school communities across the country, guiding administrators, educators and parents as they rethink school safety.
Our children are making a difference.
We look with pride upon the work they have inspired at Safe & Sound Schools. We look forward to sharing much more in the New Year.
We remember our children today, tomorrow, and every day—as we work in their honor for a nation of safer schools. They continue to guide us, teach us, and inspire us. We are grateful that they are loved, honored, and remembered by so many.
Thank you for opening your hearts to our families and our mission—and for your continued thoughts and prayers. Together, we can light the way.
Alissa and Michele
Alissa Parker, Co-Founder & Director, Safe and Sound: A Sandy Hook Initiative
Michele Gay, Co-Founder & Executive Director, Safe and Sound: A Sandy Hook Initiative
Almost three years have passed since the Sandy Hook tragedy. Since then, as a country, we’ve witnessed dozens more school shootings and continuing incidences of bullying, violence, and even natural disaster. Although the Sandy Hook Tragedy caused many schools to reassess their safety and preparedness, these continuing incidents remind us that school safety needs to remain at the forefront –for both K-12 and college campuses.
This fall, we gathered local and national school safety stakeholders with the goal of better preparing schools and students for safety and beyond. We held a panel discussion at Boston University –“From Tragedy to a Safer Tomorrow.” Panelists included our Executive Director and Co-founder, Michele Gay, mother of Josephine, Scott Pare of Boston University Police Department, Virginia Tech survivor Kristina Anderson of the Koshka Foundation, Mo Canady of the National Association of School Resource Officers and Andre Ravenelle, Superintendent of Fitchburg Public Schools and President of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents.
Click here to view the event video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ttk_lNUH2V8&feature=youtu.be
Thanks to an engaged audience, asking questions at the mic and on Twitter using the hashtag #ASaferTomorrow, the discussion covered a range of topics. One of the topics of interests for many students in attendance was social media. We examined both the dangers and values of social media in in the school community. In times of crisis, social media has the advantage of getting information out instantaneously, but it can also be a cause for concern, as miscommunication and sensationalism can quickly lead to confusion, panic, and inaccurate information.
Scott Pare and his team at Boston University Police Department have had great success using social media to monitor potential violent threats. “We have software [to help us] monitor that information and stay current,” said Scott. While prevention is a huge component of school safety, the panel reminded our audience that having a plan in place to help staff address and respond to potential threats is essential. Likewise, it is critical to ensure that parents and community members receive accurate and timely information when a crisis occurs.
Mo Canady discussed the importance of School Resource Officers (SROs) and how they are becoming more common and valued in K-12 schools, particularly elementary schools. SROs are trained to build relationships with students and are more likely to control and calm a crisis situation. “The issue of deterrence cannot be overlooked,” said Mo. “There have been very, very few school shootings that have happened when an SRO is present.”
The issue of mental health and combating stigma attached with psychological counseling was also brought up during the discussion thanks to a question from an audience member. The panel of experts stressed that the need for mental health professionals at schools is just as important as increasing the presence and participation of SROs and other first responders.
With the evening coming to an end, our panel closed the discussion reminding all that as community members, each of us has a responsibility to ask difficult questions, keep the conversation alive, get involved, and realize that we all play a role toward a safer tomorrow.
Photo from Campus Safety Magazine reporter, Zach Winn