On School Safety

I am so saddened to be writing another community letter in the aftermath of another horrific school shooting. Certainly, our hearts and thoughts go out to those impacted by this terrible tragedy. The first of these that I remember was in Thurston, Oregon, in 1998, followed a year later by Columbine in 1999. One lesson that educators learned from these incidents is the most likely perpetrator of violence on a school campus is not from a stranger walking in off the street, but someone who knows the school well, and is known. It led to a further important realization: it is critical that we meet the needs of – and are connected to – each and every child in our school.  Crisis research also emphasizes the importance of prevention in any safety plan.

Over the past week, I have received many emails from parents, asking what are we doing to ensure that Newton South is safe for their child. This is the right question to be asking. We have an active school safety team that includes teachers, administrators, counselors, youth officers, secretaries, custodians, school psychologists, and our nurse meeting throughout the year to plan and prepare for a wide range of emergency scenarios. The team will meet next week to consider implementing additional steps, such as locking more doors during the day. We will work closely with the Newton Police Department and Central Office staff to develop our safety plans while maintaining the the open campus that is core to our educational philosophy and architectural design at both high schools. Yet any technical security changes we make will pale in comparison to the importance of our work directly with our students.

My worry, in the aftermath of the Florida school shooting, is that some would like the conversation in education to be about reacting in the moment of crisis (arming teachers, active shooter drills, metal detectors, etc.) rather than on all the things that we can do to prevent the crisis from happening in the first place. By a wide margin, the most important action we can take to make our school safe is to ensure that each and every student is connected to, known by, and supported by a caring adult in our building. This is why we try our best to do school “one child at a time.” We want each child and family to feel that the school is here for them, and we want them to form positive, supportive relationships with the people in the school, including both other students and adults.

This is also why our school-wide effort on strengthening our welcoming, inclusive building culture is so important. The phrases that the students and faculty created to summarize our values (show respect, listen first, take responsibility, choose kindness) are not just words, but a road map to a safe school. I fully believe that when all students feel connected, respected, and listened to, events like the one in Florida are far, far less likely to happen.

I also understand that there are national calls for high school students to protest and walkout.  As we have with previous student protests, we will work with students who wish to organize a rally.

I will share changes that our safety team decides to make with you. Below you will find a resource to help you have conversations with your student about gun violence. Additionally, if your student is struggling with the impact of this event, please contact their school counselor for support.

https://www.gse.harvard.edu/news/uk/18/02/resiliency-after-violence?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=&utm_term=&utm_content=beth sw

As always, thank you for allowing us to partner with you to raise the next generation. It is a humbling responsibility that we take with heartfelt intensity.