I want to start out by expressing my sincere condolences to the community of Parkland, Florida. This tragedy has not only impacted the community of Parkland, Florida but also all of us who work in schools in the United States.
This post, however, is not about the politics, mental health or gun debates that are currently filling up social media networks as well as local, state, and national news. This post is about the seriousness of school security and the reality of being a principal having to deal with it.
No where in my Principal training was there a class or certification for school security. We discussed ideas, argued about the difference between being managers or leaders, and developed a leadership platform. We learned about school finance, researched best practices for curriculum and instruction, and wrote papers about the schools of the future. Honestly, this is what what should have been doing as aspiring school leaders.
However, throughout my experience as a teacher and guidance counselor, vice principal and Principal we have spent a lot of time discussing school security in professional development. I have learned from some of the best local law enforcement officials about how to keep a school safe and how to deal with tragedy. I’ve read countless articles on how to make a school safe and proactive approaches needed to ensure school security.
For some reason, schools are a target and we are required to act accordingly. None of us wants to do the security drills but we do because we are committed to keeping kids safe. We take this aspect of our job very seriously.
Security drills are nothing new to education. In some form or fashion we have been doing fire drills, bus evacuation drills, safety drills, nuclear war drills, and depending on the region there are countless weather related drills. After the Columbine School Shooting, schools began implementing active shooter drills, shelter in place, lock downs and evacuation drills. No matter the drill, teachers and students take these exercises seriously even as they may occur at any time. It has become part of what we do.
As I watched the news reports from the most recent incident in Florida, I felt a deep emotion for those involved. I couldn’t help but to ask myself the question, “What if that happened at my school?” Honestly, if you work in a school in the United States, you asked yourself that question. The answers, I am sure, would vary. It made me think about an incident that hit close to home.
Prior to the Winter Break, our school had a “shooting threat” that turned out to be a vicious rumor fueled by misinformation, judgement and hysteria. We went through our protocols, included the local police, did thorough and extensive interviews only to find out there was nothing… no threatening posts on social media, no guns at the student’s house, no written accounts, not even a confirmed one on one conversation. We informed the teachers when were allowed to and we informed the parents when we were allowed to. Honestly, as I reflect back on this experience, all I think about are the parents and community members who rushed to judgement, pointed the finger at us and insinuated that we were not doing our jobs. The feeling I felt was that people actually thought it was our fault and that we were not doing enough. That hurt the most.
As a parent and an educator I understand the emotions behind this entire debate. No one wants to send their children to a war zone, they want their kids to learn to read and write. This is why we practice drills. This is why we take threats seriously. This is why we investigate. This is why we involve law enforcement. This is why we are constantly being trained, and re-trained on crisis management. This is why we work together.
When it comes to school security we take this very seriously.
Spike C. Cook, Ed.D., Principal, Lakeside Middle School, Millville, NJ. In addition to being a Principal, Dr. Cook published two book through Corwin Press (Connected Leadership:It’s Just a Click Away; Breaking Out of Isolation: Becoming a Connected School Leader). He is the co-host of the popular PrincipaPLN podcast and his blog, Insights Into Learning, was recognized as a finalist for Best Administrator Blog by the EduBlog Awards. Spike earned his Doctorate from Rowan University and is featured in their Alumni Spotlight. Connect with @drspikecook via Twitter.