The Richmond Register

June 25, 2013

Schools better prepared, safety reports says, but must remain vigilant


Register Staff Report

RICHMOND — With the Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy in Connecticut still a fresh memory, the Kentucky Center for School Safety (KCSS) recently issued its 14th annual report.

This year’s report, which also comes on the heels of two new pieces of state legislation aimed at enhancing school safety, documents how the center assisted Kentucky’s schools through various services, including training, often with collaborative partners; various forms of technical assistance; communication; and surveys.

The KCSS, housed at Eastern Kentucky University, is a partnership involving EKU, the University of Kentucky, Murray State University and the Kentucky School Boards Association. Its 12-member executive board is appointed by the governor.

“Over the years, educators have always made good-faith efforts to keep their students safe,” KCSS Executive Director Jon Akers writes in his message for the report. “Now educators are being charged with developing more comprehensive response plans with an ‘all-hazards’ approach.”

Schools, he said are “better prepared today than 10 years ago” but “must be ever-vigilant in maintaining safe and healthy learning environments as new challenges to schools safety emerge.”

In January, Madison County Schools superintendent Tommy Floyd dedicated his monthly report at the school board meeting to talk about safety in schools.

The district maintains frequent correspondences with Akers, he said.

Principals also are being trained on how to handle different scenarios while blueprints of each school were being updated on the county’s 911 emergency responders’ database, he said. Every police cruiser also will have school blueprints readily available.

Floyd spoke on his experience as a former high school principal and assistant principal: “The best way I know, as I would get out of the vehicle and walk into that school building, is that I know my kids trust me enough to talk to me about something that scares them. We don’t want anybody scared; we want everybody learning at high levels.”

The annual report notes that since 2003, the KCSS has conducted 635 safe school assessments in 152 school districts. Each six-member assessment team (comprised largely of current and former school administrators) offers best practices in school safety as possible considerations for participating districts.

Examples of best practices typically center on connectivity with students, adult supervision, building access, bullying and harassment, and social networking between teachers and students.

New state legislation requires schools to review and revise their emergency management plans in cooperation with first responders and then train faculty and staff on the plan. It also requires that four emergency evacuation drills be practiced within the first 30 days of school each year and again in January.

Recalling Sandy Hook, Akers asked, “Can we prevent such a tragedy from happening in our state? Possibly not, but through this new legislation and a monumental, concerted effort on all our parts, we can greatly increase our awareness and preparedness for possible threats to our schools better than ever before.”

Akers said the Center will continue to provide services to schools on a wide variety of issues that can affect a school environment. “Further, we will continue to focus on the relationship teachers have with their students. We are convinced this remains the key element to maintaining a safe culture within a school.”

For more details about the Kentucky Center for School Safety, visit www.kycss.org.

The entire 2012 report is posted at www.kycss.org/clear/2012ANNUALREPORT.pdf