This winter, I spent several days attending superintendent conferences—specifically the Texas state association and the National Conference on Education hosted by AASA, The Superintendent Association. As a marketing leader, I value every opportunity I get to speak directly to school district leaders and learn what keeps them up at night. Increasing the safety of students and schools remains a top priority with every district leader.
After a traumatic year in terms of incidents in schools, I was interested to learn what superintendents around the country had done to improve student safety and school security. Many expressed increasing pressure from parents, community members, and their school boards to do "something" to improve school safety.
Speaking to district leaders, I found some common themes emerge. Regardless of district size, budget, or geography, there are some common responses to enhancing school safety.
- Door locks—almost every superintendent I spoke with mentioned an audit of exterior and interior door locks: making sure all locks function as intended and that interior rooms can be locked from the inside.
- Visitor management—limiting access to buildings to one entrance and thoroughly vetting visitors prior to them gaining entry.
- Fencing—many districts have added or repaired fences and gates securing their school campuses, adding a barrier to limit entry onto school grounds.
- Additional school resource officers (SROs)—some superintendents increased the number of SROs patrolling their schools; a few districts have implemented at least one officer per campus.
"Hardening" facilities are logical responses to the demands for greater security in schools. Virtually all districts in the country have taken some or all of these steps; many districts have employed other measures (e.g. bullet-resistant window film, additional surveillance cameras, etc.) to bolster school safety.
Following the initial steps, most district leaders are looking for what's next.
Tools and strategies that help schools and districts better prepare for and help mitigate crisis situations are becoming increasingly sought after. There is an increased focus on planning and preparation—clearly defining potential situations and aligning the correct response protocols. Schools and districts are making a greater effort to sync response plans with local law enforcement and first responders. Superintendents are working closely with principals to ensure schools adhere to state school safety drill mandates.
Our schools will always be subject to disruptive situations—whether they are facility-related (e.g. water main leak, fire), weather-related (e.g. tornado, earthquake, blizzard), or caused by humans (e.g. weapons on campus, bullying, unauthorized visitor). Many schools across the country have taken the first steps to “harden” the physical structures to help prevent threats.
The next step is ensuring leaders and staff are prepared to respond to the situation and help maintain safer learning environments for all students.
If your district is ready to strengthen its planning, preparedness, and response protocols, check out this free guide to help make sure you ask the right questions and consider all aspects of tools and technology that can help you achieve your goals.