School districts take steps to increase safety


Increased student safety is very much on the minds of more than 40 Minnesota school leaders who responded to a recent survey. Many districts have made changes to their buildings and procedures. Here’s what several area school leaders told me.
Asked what changes the district had made after the tragic school shooting last year in Sandy Hook, Conn., Independent School District 834 Superintendent Corey Lunn responded: “For the past two years — before the Newtown, Conn., incident — we had been scrutinizing, practicing and improving our safety plans and visitor check-in procedures. This was made possible through a cooperative grant with three other school districts. Since the tragic Connecticut event, we have been paying more attention to securing the entrances of our school buildings and creating quick response systems with our local authorities along with more focus on anti-bullying and mental health issues in our schools. All these are tied into our November levy request and successful implementation will be dependent on the outcome. “
New Heights Charter School Director Tom Kearney wrote: “My first reaction is that good schools do what they can to prepare for the unexpected by running drills, talking with students, staff and parents, and really assessing whether or not the drills are authentically addressing the potential events like Sandy Hook. To be honest, we didn’t change much other than to be reminded that we need to take each drill seriously and not think of it as something to check off the list of annual duties. We have the people of tragedies like Sandy Hook or Columbine and others in our minds when we practice and prepare for the unexpected and unthinkable. If anything changed, it is the way we think about our safety; it can be threatened at any time by anyone with little or no warning. We can at least prepare with a serious attitude.”
Jon Gutierrez, executive director of St. Croix Preparatory Academy, wrote that the school “worked closely with the Washington County Sheriff’s Department to thoroughly review the security measures of our school. After a formal assessment of our building security and procedures, we made some changes to improve our already safe school environment.”
Mark Parr, director of secondary education for the Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan School District, told me: “In the wake of last year’s tragedy in Newtown, Conn., and subsequent scare in nearby New Prague schools, principals and other administrators in District 196 have worked closely with local police departments to review emergency procedures and practice safety drills. Police have been and are continuing to conduct active shooter drills with staff at each school in the district. District administrators have also been reviewing school entrances and may ultimately recommend construction projects at selected schools to redesign entrances for safety reasons.”
It’s clear these and other leaders take security seriously. That’s very good news for students, educators and families.

Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school teacher and administrator, directs the Center for School Change. Reactions are welcome  at [email protected]