School safety is one issue that brings together all educators, regardless of their affiliation with charter, district or private schools. This point was proved in Dayton last week, when over 120 school leaders, administrators, staff and concerned citizens attended a school safety seminar hosted by Fordham and the University of Dayton’s School of Education and Allied Professions. Featured speakers included Kenneth S. Trump, president of the National School Safety and Security Services and nationally recognized advocate for emergency preparedness planning and crisis prevention.

Participants heard a number of good reasons to take school safety seriously: aggressive behavior is on the rise; funding for school safety is on the decline (despite the violent tragedies in places like Littleton, Colorado and at the Amish West Nickel Mines School in Pennsylvania); and just 57 percent of students feel “very safe” at school, according to a December 2006 poll (see here). With roughly 20 percent of America’s population (including students, teachers, staff and parents) in schools everyday, school safety can be compromised by a host of both internal and external threats (gang violence, terrorist attacks, disturbed individuals, etc.).

These facts may send some school administrators on shopping sprees for high tech surveillance cameras and metal detectors--and perhaps rightly so. Yet Mr. Trump emphasized that threats to school safety can also be contained, and even prevented, by smart planning, comprehensive preparation, and continuous practice. Indeed, it’s sometimes the low-tech measures that may ultimately keep children safe from harm: training staff (including cafeteria workers and bus drivers) in emergency procedures; conducting “table top” drills of school safety plans to ensure effectiveness and expose potential problems; practicing “lockdown” drills with students; clearly numbering school buildings and classrooms for easy identification; and creating efficient schoolwide communication networks. Couple these and other measures with ongoing student involvement and the result can be schools that are safe places for children to learn.

Also featured was Dayton Police Department’s Lieutenant Robert Chabali, who explained how officers react to violent threats and what to expect from police units should a school crisis occur. Dayton Public Schools Superintendent Percy Mack discussed the importance of listening to students, who often know about threats before adults. And Centerville City Schools Coordinating Principal Eileen Booher spoke to the importance of school safety plans being “living documents”--constantly revised and updated to reflect a school’s changing circumstances. For those in attendance, the Dayton seminar was a clear reminder that creating safe and secure learning environments is critical to helping students achieve academic success.

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