March 29, 2018

Components of a Safe School

One of the things that makes school shootings so scary is that they seem so random. However, we believe that school shootings are predictable, and if you can predict them, you can prevent them.

One of the things that makes school shootings so scary is that they seem so random. However, we believe that school shootings are predictable, and if you can predict them, you can prevent them.
 
Nobody is born a school shooter. School shooters are made by a combination of factors, both internal and external. School shooters have many of these factors in common, and as such it is possible to identify a youth who is at risk for devolving into a school shooter. This means that with timely intervention, it can be possible to prevent a school shooting. 

For several weeks on the nightly news, we have seen talk of school violence, and the death and destruction at American schools.  These incidents have occurred in various locations, including both public and private schools.  No school district is immune to the troubling issues facing American schools.  As a school safety professional, I am convinced that these events can be mitigated; however, it starts with TRUST.  Parents must TRUST those responsible for school safety and security.  In as much as those involved in the safety of students enjoy the feedback, during a critical incident, it is so important that parents, staff and the community give districts the opportunity to manage the incidents.

The Grand Rapids Public School has had its share of scary incidents over the years, and each year we get better and better at preventing and managing these incidents.  We hope and pray that our community will never face any of the death and heartache that communities are facing around the county.  

With careful thought and consideration, and with the input of students, parents, staff and community members, we will select the best avenue that will give our community and district an advantage in preventing, mitigating, preparing and recovery should we be faced with a critical incident in our schools.

We continue to work with our staff in “The Components of a Safe School” program. This process has been the backbone of our school safety program and recognized nationally as a model for school safety.  The components include the following:  

Appropriate Student & Staff Relationships

Important to build relationships with students that are professional and appropriate. Healthy relationships with students help to establish trust, and give the staff members an opportunity to talk with students one on one to prevent and identify challenges, barriers and obstacles students may be having.

Administrative Support

Staff cannot be effective unless they know they have support from the administration from the top down. Building staff must reinforce this in buildings so that staff not only feels support but they know they are supported.  

After School Athletic Security Program

More students attend high school athletic events than professional events. We have established security procedures from 7 am until 3 pm.  We cannot allow security procedures to be reduced at a time when students will be inside your building attending athletic or after school events. The same procedures before school ends should apply after the school day and on weekends.

Comprehensive School Safety Plan

Buildings must have a comprehensive school safety plan in place which includes: after school events, peer mediation, conflict resolution, restorative practices, PBIS and many more. These programs go to the core of a safe and healthy school environment.

Cleanliness of Building

Buildings must be clean both inside and outside. Staff must model the behavior by picking up litter that is on the ground and working with their operations staff to ensure a clean environment.

Crisis Management Plans

Staff must not only know the district’s crisis management plan, they must ensure that drills and opportunities to practice the plan are implemented. Administrators must stress that staff follow the plan, and offer opportunities to practice so that in the event of an incident all staff will know how to respond.

Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (C.P.T.E.D.)

School design is very important; knowing how design plays into the day to day operations of a safe building becomes very critical.  Adjustment to the school design and environment can help create and maintain a safe school.

School Security Program

When available, the utilization of the district’s school security officers will give the administrator an opportunity to have professionally trained staff to assist with a major investigations and provide a level of safety that is open and inviting

School Pride

The administrator should understand that the culture of the school takes on the personality of the administrator within two years of working in a building. A well-established level of pride is evidence at the time a visitor walks in the building. This includes, the friendliness of staff, an organized and clean front office, student work displayed, billboards that reflect the correct information, etc.

School Uniform Policy

A school uniform policy must be fair, firm and consistent. This process must be established at the beginning of the school year; and be a part of the school culture and not utilized as a management tool to target certain students.

Student Pass Procedures

Student management and supervision is critical in any school environment, knowing where students are at all times will help to reduce vandalism, assaults, and other school related incidents. Ensuring that all staff is implementing an effective student hall pass procedure will reduce the opportunity for students to misbehave during non-supervised times.

Student Safety Audits

School safety audits and assessments should be conducted annually by school safety professional to help identify risk and vulnerabilities within the building. When completed, it helps administrative staff know those risk factors that can disrupt the school environment. Staff can adjust to them and thereby reduce risk to the entire school culture.

School Safety Leadership Academy

The School Safety Leadership Academy is an opportunity for school administrators and staff to learn critical information to assist them in the management of their building and the management of a potential crisis.  It is designed to bring the latest information and best practices to the administrator and other staff members.

Positive Behavior Intervention Support (P.B.I.S)

Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) is a proactive approach to establishing the behavioral supports a student needs to be successful in school.

Each building has their own expectations and they should be posted in the building.
Students should be receiving tickets/acknowledgements for exhibiting expectations.
Staff should be referring to expectations when redirecting students. 
Staff should be utilizing positive reinforcement and positive language when engaging with students.

Perimeter Patrols

A simple concept of keeping a watchful eye on the school environment. Checking risk areas of the school including bathrooms, doors, parking lots etc.

Restorative Practices

A strategy that seeks to repair relationships that have been damaged, including those damaged through bullying.  It does this by bringing about a sense of remorse and restorative action on the art of the offender and forgiveness by the victim.

Restorative Circles can be utilized to build community, check in with students, and resolve student/staff/parent conflicts.
Restorative questions  such as:

“What were your thoughts when you did ____? 
How do you think your actions made _____ feel? 
What could you do differently next time?

Technology Utilization Plan

A strategy to select and utilize available and affordable security technology that can aid in the maintaining of a safe school environment.  This includes, two way radios, card access, alarms, metal detectors, etc.

Teaching, Educating, and Mentoring (T.E.A.M)

A research based prevention program is a school based, law related curriculum to grades k-12 by trained school security officers.

Incident Reports

An official school record of a school related event reported to school officials and maintained as a record of events.

Law Enforcement Partnerships

Partnerships with local, state, county and federal law enforcement agencies established for the purpose of developing a positive relationship between school officials and enforcement agencies for the purpose of keeping schools safe.

Mandated School Security Training

A comprehensive school safety and security training program that trains all school staff in the best practices of school safety and security.

Nutrition Services

The districts meals program operating within the school to ensure students are receiving nutritionally balanced, low cost meals while attending school.

Truancy Program

A strategy within the district to manage chronic absenteeism and improve attendance of students.

Table Top Exercise

A meeting that discusses simulated emergencies, trains, and brings together key school officials to ensure that staff is properly prepared to respond to a school-based emergency.

Visitor Control Procedures

A district level procedure that establishes protocols for the management of the front office of a school. (Refer to Student Hand Book)

Youth Advocate and Intervention Specialist Programs

A school based program that hires and trains specially selected individuals to work with students.  The program acts as a mentoring and tutoring program that works with at-risk students to help remove barriers and obstacles to assist student in being successful at school and home.

Weapons Prevention Plans

A strategy that trains school staff to be in a position to identify students who may be in possession of a weapon on school property.  This is specialized training that is designed for school staff for the sole purpose of keeping weapons out of schools.

Staff That Believes It Can Happen

Probably the most important component of all is staff that remains positive, and believes that they can make a difference in a student’s life by utilizing the mentioned strategies to reduce school disruption and by creating a positive and nurturing school culture.

 

If we embrace these components, we are confident that we will continue to make Grand Rapids Public Schools one of the safest districts in the state, if not the entire nation.  Our focus as we prepare to move forward is around security technology.  The citizens of Grand Rapids so much believe in the district that they have given us the opportunity to improve on our school safety and security by passing a 10 million dollar bond that will allow for the upgrading of all the entry ways of the schools.  This will also allow us to increase our use of cameras, card access, two-way radios and visitor management systems.  We look forward to improving all of our schools in the very near future.

With the opening of C.A. Frost Middle/High School (2016), Buchanan Elementary, and Museum High School you will began to see our thoughts and goals for all of our campuses.  A process has been put in place to begin additional work on security entry ways and the increase use of other security technology solutions.  In the coming months look for additional security work to be completed at Gerald R. Ford Academic Center, Martin Luther King Academy, Cezar Chavez, and Burton Middle/Elementary Schools.  We selected these school as they had previous work that allows for easy integration of the new security technology and re-design of their front office.  

Following the above-mentioned projects, we will continue to solicit input from our parents, students, staff and the community to prioritize our work as we continue to create and maintain a safe school environment for all the schools in our district.

So keep your eyes open for new visitor management system, and new and improved two-way radio system, additional cameras in all of our buildings, increased use of card access and door intercom systems.  In addition, we will evaluate all of our communication systems, and continue training our staff.  In the spring of 2018, we plan to expand all of our school safety trainings to our students, parents and the community.

Keeping schools safe is our goal, and we want to continue to build the TRUST necessary for our parents to continue to send their students to what I believe are some of the safest schools in the nation.  We will also continue to take the input from all of our stakeholders because we know this work cannot be completed in isolation.  

For additional information on upcoming security related projects, contact Larry Johnson at Johnsonl@grps.og or call 616 819-2100.  Further projects will also be posted on the district website.  (Components of a Safe Schools taken from the book “Components of a Safe School by Larry D. Johnson.)