You would not expect to find a school administrator responsible for the challenging areas of school safety, student health, discipline, truancy prevention/intervention, and alternative education to be smiling and upbeat every day. Of course, it is also not every day you meet someone like Asia Jones.
Asia is the Executive Director for Student Services in Roanoke City Public Schools in Roanoke, Virginia. She has served in this position for three years. Asia also has eight years experience as an elementary and a middle school principal, prior to which time she was a high school teacher for nine years. She has also served three years in higher education as an adjunct professor.
I had the pleasure of working with Asia on a Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools (REMS) federal grant, for which she was the district’s project director. She is an exceptionally bright, dynamic, and talented education professional.
Climate, Time, and Communication are Priorities
Asia has no fear of tackling the challenges which come with leading school safety efforts. She identifies three important challenges as ones which school leaders must focus on for safer schools:
- Maintaining a safe and welcoming environment:
“A healthy school climate facilitates student learning. Teachers are most effective when they feel empowered and supported by their administration. Similarly, students become engaged in the school community when they feel safe, respected by and connected to their teachers,” Asia says.
Asia believes there are many tools that can be used to build the foundation for a welcoming environment. She stresses it is important to ensure tools that include, but are not limited to; threat assessments, conflict mediation and resolution, progressive discipline, anonymous reporting, and student perception surveys are a part of the routine practice.
“Finding creative opportunities for parental involvement and awareness of safety practices and procedures go a long way with building community support and trust,” according to Asia.
2. Finding time to practice the plan:
Educators have a seemingly insurmountable task of educating all students to meet all state and federal academic expectations and benchmarks.
Asia strongly believes, “As instructional leaders, principals must protect instructional time to ensure that teaching and learning take place. Finding a balance of time to ensure the learning environment is safe is a priority and must be communicated as such. Principals must ensure the emergency management plan is accessible, understood and practiced routinely within their school community.”
3. Communicating safety as a priority:
Asia believes it is important that everyone within the school community understands their role in maintaining a safe environment.
“School officials must maintain open lines of communication with first responders. The partnership between school officials and first responders can be nurtured by routine team meetings/summits and practice drills. Everyone in the school community must understand the importance of safety drills, as well as the importance of reporting concerns,” according to Asia.
She notes that once concerns are reported, parents and students must trust that the teacher/administrator will listen and respond accordingly.
Proactive School Emergency Planning
Roanoke City Public Schools was recently awarded the Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools (REMS) grant, a competitive federal school emergency planning grant program from the U.S. Department of Education.
As the project manager, Asia had the opportunity to work closely with experts in the field of school safety and security to enhance the school district’s ability to respond to critical incidents.
“Among the most valuable and substantial REMS initiatives were training workshops and modified tabletop drills facilitated by National School Safety and Security Services. Ken and his team’s workshops were all inclusive to include the Superintendent’s cabinet, central office administrators as well as staff members from transportation, custodial services, school cafeterias, parents and school-based safety teams.
Our school administrators had not experienced such professional development prior to these safety and crisis preparedness exercises. As a result, school teams can implement the emergency response plan with confidence when responding to a crisis,” Asia shared.
What was the most important lesson from the REMS project?
“Most importantly, we’ve learned that a well trained and highly alert faculty and staff are essential for keeping the school community safe,” Asia said.
Priority Advice for School Administrators
Based upon her experience as a school district and building level administrator, Asia has three pieces of advice on school safety for her counterparts:
- Have an emergency management plan that is a “living document”. As a “living document”, it is reviewed, updated and practiced routinely.
- Communicate school safety as a priority. As the instructional leader, the principal routinely reviews discipline data and concerns identified by the school safety team. These concerns may include issues surrounding hallway supervision, visitor passes or sign-in/out procedures or even referrals to the office.
- Build and nurture positive relationships with students. Be intentional when identifying ways to connect the disconnected student.
In recognition of her commitment, dedication, and leadership on school safety and emergency planning initiatives, I am pleased to recognize Asia Jones 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. ]
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