Dr. John Hutton’s 35 years in education have taught him many important lessons. His most important lesson on school safety: Be proactive!
Dr. Hutton is Superintendent of Gurnee School District 56 in Gurnee, Illinois. He served an assistant superintendent and building administrator in Valparaiso, Indiana. Dr. Hutton was also a math teacher and a basketball coach in Portage, Indiana.
School Safety Challenges
Dr. Hutton is no stranger to school safety challenges.
In 2004, while serving as an assistant superintendent in Valparaiso, Indiana, Dr. Hutton dealt extensively with the response and recovery from an incident where a high school student armed with bladed weapons attacked seven students in a classroom.
As Gurnee District 56’s superintendent, Dr. Hutton took the lead in resolving issues related to repeated burglaries and vandalism at one of his district’s schools. The repeat offenses not only damaged school property, but threatened the morale and spirit at the school and in the surrounding school-community.
A third significant school safety challenge he faces as a school leader:
“Maintaining vigilance to be alert for safety and security concerns at all times,” says Dr. Hutton.
Dr. Hutton and his colleagues in Valparaiso faced an uphill battle in managing the school district and school-community recovery after the brutal 2004 attack. Media coverage was intense and community emotions ran high. While the crisis incident itself was horrific, the energy and focus of efforts to manage the recovery was also intense.
In addition to overseeing the implementation of mental health responses and liaison with law enforcement, Dr. Hutton worked with his superintendent, board, and building administrators to reassess the district’s overall security and emergency preparedness. The district hired a national consulting firm (headed by this author) which reviewed policies and procedures, assessed each school in the district, facilitated a community meeting, and worked with the media to get out accurate information on the district’s recovery efforts.
Following the rash of burglaries and vandalism in Gurnee, Dr. Hutton again worked closely with local law enforcement. He also engaged the same consultant firm to evaluate security practices and make recommendations relative to these incidents, as well as other school safety matters in the district.
Three proactive things Dr. Hutton and his team have done in their district to address safety, security, and crisis preparedness are to:
- Conduct a safety audit at all district schools;
- Participate in tabletop exercises with first responders in their community; and
- Update safety and emergency preparedness plans and discuss them annually with the local police and fire departments.
Advice for Fellow Superintendents
“The advice I would offer my colleagues is to develop and maintain a relationship with a school safety expert. It is impossible for a superintendent to stay current in all the aspects of school safety and emergency preparedness without some expert help. Secondly, I would recommend that superintendents invest resources in school safety and emergency preparedness before a problem surfaces. Avoiding problems is much less expensive than solving problems after the problems occur,” Dr. Hutton stressed.
When it comes to school safety, Dr. John Hutton “gets it,” as we like to say. He understands the value of having a proactive working relationship with first responders. He recognizes the need to annually update crisis plans. And he knows plans must be exercised in order for schools to be best prepared for an emergency.
For that reason, I am proud to recognize Dr. John Hutton as a “School Safety Leader”!!!
“School Safety Leaders” are individuals on the “front lines” of education who have demonstrated proactive leadership in addressing school safety, security, and/or crisis preparedness.