When I served as a superintendent and a school board member, I had many sleepless nights worrying about school security. The kind of questions that kept me awake included: Had we done everything we could to ensure the safety of those in our care? Were we missing something?
I am sure that every board member and school administrator can identify with that scenario. After all, nothing is more important – and more emotionally charged – than the safety of our children and staff.
Unfortunately, there is a natural inclination to place a strong focus on school security only after a tragedy. Then, in the weeks and months after a calamity, when the immediacy of the heartbreak has faded, it is easy to get caught up in the day-to-day operations of a school district. Gradually, school security issues become less important.
It is crucial to keep school security on our radar screen, even when the issue disappears from the headlines. That’s why I’m recommending that board members and administrators read the special section on school security in this issue of School Leader that begins on page 17.
I would also urge school officials to review the NJSBA School Security Task Force’s final report, “What Makes Schools Safe?” The report is on the NJSBA website.
The report, which was released in October 2014, was the result of a year-long process of research, and includes 45 recommendations on topics such as security personnel, school climate, policy and planning, communications, training, physical security, and financing security measures.
“What Makes Schools Safe” attracted attention from the governor’s office, legislators, and the New Jersey Department of Education, and was referenced in the report of the New Jersey School Security Task Force, a group commissioned by the Legislature to study the issue.
At NJSBA we continue to focus on the topic. On March 1 Commissioner of Education David Hespe visited NJSBA with his security team in order to discuss expanding training in our schools regarding the safety of our children and staff. As a result of that meeting, NJSBA will be incorporating a module on the board’s role in school security in our online training.
NJSBA is also planning an additional opportunity for board members to learn about school security. On June 3, NJSBA’s full-day School Security and Student Safety Conference will be held at the Mercer County Community College conference center. The day will feature presentations and panel discussions. Speakers will include Commissioner Hespe, Assembly Education Committee chairman Pat Diegnan, other legislators, and experts from local school districts, municipalities and law enforcement. Registration information will be published soon in School Board Notes.
When school leaders commit to a sustained focus on school security, they sleep better and, more important, they ensure a safe learning environment for our children.