A new generation of superintendents, principals, teachers, school resource officers, and other school-community leaders embarked on their first round of training on Wednesday at the Indiana School Safety Specialist Academy (ISSSA).
A record number of more than 330 participants learned best practices in school law, managing bullying without new programs and expenses, and managing media and parent communications on school safety and crisis issues.
The ISSSA was created in 1999 by state legislation initiated by then-Governor Frank O’Bannon. My colleague, Chuck Hibbert, and I had the honor of working with the Governor and his staff to help craft the Academy concept. One representative from each school district across the state serves as a designed school safety specialist who received basic and advanced academy classes on an ongoing basis.
I had the pleasure of following a presentation by the legendary Dr. Bernie James, one of the nation’s premiere experts in school law. Bernie is, in my opinion, nothing short of a genius and one of the most knowledgeable, dynamic presenters on school safety-related law in our nation.
After presenting a brief overview of current school safety and emergency / crisis preparedness trends, we spent the afternoon talking about practical, cost-effective strategies for managing bullying without hiring new consultants, paying motivational speakers, buying vendor-driven products, and creating new anti-bullying programs. We then spent the remainder of the afternoon talking about under-utilized but inexpensive, realistic ways school leaders can communicate proactively on school safety issues while also preparing a crisis communications strategy for responding to a major event.
Participants were exceptionally attentive, interested, enthusiastic, and engaged to the very end of my presentation block. “You nailed it,” one principal told me in response to my emphasis on being practical while “calling it like it is.” The reality is that they nailed it, not me, as their enthusiasm and interest motivated me.
Program coordinator Dave Woodward and I talked about how we now have a whole new generation of new administrators, SROs, and other safety specialists now that we are more than a decade past the Columbine tragedy. Once again, we find ourselves focusing on the “fundamentals” and “best practices” of school safety as many school safety specialists are not only new to the Academy, but are also new to overseeing school safety management in their district.
The ISSSA is unique in many ways. It was a first of its kind in the nation and professionals from other states continue to look to the Academy as a model. And most importantly, it has remained strong since 1999 by providing relevant training, free access to national school safety expert speakers, publications and resource materials, and most of all a professional network for Indiana-specific information-sharing and collaboration.
In today’s world of decreasing budgets for school safety, the ISSSA continues moving forward. I am as proud to be a part of it now as I was at the time I helped create the concept.
Are your state and local education and safety organizations providing training and support on school safety, security, and emergency /crisis preparedness for your schools?