Matt McDevitt is a school board member who does not just talk about school security. He has served on the District Security Committee as Chairperson since 1997.
As an elected member of the Pennsauken Board of Education in Pennsauken, New Jersey since 1995, Matt has served terms as President and Vice-President of the board. Over the years, Matt could be seen at the National School Boards Association conference not only attending sessions related to board leadership, but also attending and presenting on school security and emergency preparedness trends and best practices.
Pennsauken is an urban, middle class community of approximately 35,000 people in Camden County, New Jersey. It is a 10.5 square mile, diverse community. The district is across the state line from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Greatest School Safety Challenges
Matt identified three top challenges with school safety he has faced over his years of services:
“My biggest challenge was to get police officers into our district. It took seven years of pushing the board until they finally agreed to one officer at our high school. Since then the board has seen the positives of this program and it has expanded.
Another challenge was a large fight at our high school. Outside elements came to the school and there were two stabbings. The press was relentless. This was one of the biggest challenges to our district. We learned that a district needs to speak with one voice.
Money is always a challenge. It is a lot easier to justify buying textbooks than it is to provide security, until something goes wrong.”
Proactive School Safety Leadership
I asked Matt to share three proactive things done in his district which he believes has made a substantial impact on school safety, security, and/or crisis preparedness:
“In 1999 the Security Committee brought in a professional consultant, National School Safety and Security Services, to review all of our schools. This review gave the district a basis for providing a safe school environment for our students.
In 2002 we asked the local sheriffs department to bring in their drug sniffing dogs to go into our high school twice a year. It put our students on notice and gave the dogs some free training.
In 2007 the Pennsauken Board of Education agreed to enter into a contract with the township to provide a police officer at our high school. Since then that agreement has expanded to include two campuses. Violence and gang activity is down and the buildings are safer than ever.”
Advice to Board Members
Given Matt’s experience of 13 years chairing the district’s security committee, and his 15 years of service as a school board member, I felt he had to have some great, practical advice for other board members across the nation. He did!
“The first thing a school district needs to do is find out where they stand. Bring a professional school security consultant into your district to walk your school campuses. It’s not that we as board members don’t trust administration, I just like to hear it from an outside professional.
As board members it is us, not only administrators or teachers that parents look to, to protect their children. Make sure that all of your schools have up to date emergency plans, and that the people in the building know how to use them. Plans that sit on a shelf do no one any good in an emergency. Emergency plans should be practiced.
It is important for board member to keep security in the forefront of all discussions. That way administrators will know what is important to their board members.”
In recognition of his commitment, dedication, and leadership on school safety and emergency planning initiatives, I am pleased to recognize Matt McDevitt as a “School Safety Leader”!
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