It has been a great five days at the National School Boards Association annual convention in San Diego. The staff at NSBA is terrific, as always. Board members and superintendents I met from around the nation are genuinely concerned about the safety of their students.
Several themes came from our work with these school board members and superintendents:
- Schools are working on school safety issues. School districts vary in their levels of prevention, planning, and preparedness, but every school district has a number of things in place, according to our discussions.
- Board members from smaller and rural communities shared their frustrations with still trying, ten years after the Columbine attack, to overcome the mindset of, “It can’t happen here,” in their school communities.
- Leaders of larger and more urban districts stressed they know it can happen there. Their problem is not acknowledging the problem, but instead trying to find enough resources to deal with overwhelming problems many of them readily acknowledge exist.
- Most school districts have watched outside school safety funding steadily decline. District security and prevention budgets are also tighter than in the past.
- Boards and superintendents are concerned about the gaps between written policy and plans, and actual day-to-day practice. Boards set policy and superintendents lead the implementation, but many are concerned their guidance has not filtered down into everyday practice.
“We all know we need change,” one board member said. “And on the board, we know we can vote for change. However, the change does not necessarily quickly move from the top down to meet students on the front line. It usually takes a long time, if ever,” she said.
School safety leadership begins with the school board and superintendent. Each school building’s school safety leadership begins with the principal and his/her administrative team. School safety must be reasonably ingrained in both the district’s culture and its operating budget.
Boards and superintendents should require internal audits of prevention, security, and emergency preparedness measures. Periodic engagement of outside evaluators can supplement internal efforts. School boards should establish committees or subcommittees specifically for school safety policy, planning, and oversight. Superintendents should provide board members with data and briefings on school crime and discipline incidents, as well as school safety programs and strategies in place in their district.
What are you and your school leaders doing to keep school safety on the front burner?