Independent, parochial, and other private school heads are often concerned that assessments of their security and emergency preparedness might conflict with their unique school cultures. We believe, however, that part of their unique cultures can, and should, include a culture of safety. No schools are immune from a security incident or emergency situation.
Higher tuition does not always equate to higher security levels
When parents spend $20,000 or $10,000, or for that matter $5,000, per year for private school tuition, there is an inherent assumption that their school leaders have “dotted their i’s and crossed their t’s” with security and emergency preparedness planning. While in many cases they have, in other cases they have not.
A number of years ago my colleague and I stood outside of an independent school for nearly 45 minutes in the morning watching parents drop off lower school to upper school students without one adult from the school supervising. We were astonished by the absence of adult staff supervision. We were also quite surprised that the parents who were paying more than $15,000-per-year tuition were not equally astonished.
Make safety a part of your private school culture
Fortunately, we have also seen the opposite scenario. A few months ago at a respected private school in the DC Capitol region where we were conducting a consultation, we observed a lower school head and his staff highly visible in greeting students as they were dropped off by parents in the car drop-off circle. Meanwhile, at the upper school level, we found school staff by the door and in the hallways greeting arriving students with one support staff member politely stopping me and my colleague to identify our purpose at the school.
One of the common threads in those independent, parochial, and other private schools where we have seen safety as a priority is that it is done in a very positive and welcoming way. As we say in our consultations with school leaders, one of the most powerful school safety questions that any school staff member can ask a stranger in the hallway is, “May I help you?”
Some of the best school security measures are invisible
Physical security measures in private schools can be aesthetically pleasing. Fencing can be wrought iron instead of chain link. Surveillance cameras can be housed in small domes that go unnoticed to many visitors who are accustomed to seeing such signs of security in their corporate offices and suburban shopping centers. Crime prevention can be incorporated into facility designs and campuses in methods less obvious to the naked eye.
But the first and best line of defense is always a well-trained, highly-alert school staff and student body. Security and preparedness mindsets can, and should, be a positive part of the culture of a school.
Independent and other private school heads need not worry about safety conflicting with their unique school cultures. Instead, they should be striving to make safety an integral part of their unique school cultures. Doing so will reassure their parents, serve as a strong marketing tool for their school, and most of all strengthen student, faculty, and staff safety and preparedness.
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