Article

A School Where “P” Means Protection

By Jeffrey Shields posted 08-22-2017 09:36 AM

  

CEO Notebook |

Presence, process and protocols: Best practices from a head of school who is also a certified school safety manager.

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Jeffrey Shields, FASAE, CAE
NBOA President and CEO

As we prepare for the school year ahead, security concerns remain front and center. I’m sharing my column this week with Steve Mandell, head of school at Pinewood Preparatory School, in Summerville, South Carolina, to share his unique insight and perspective on this important issue for independent schools.

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Article by Steve Mandell, Pinewood Preparatory School

Steve-Mandell
Steve Mandell
Pinewood Preparatory School
Head of School

When I first became a head of school in 2008, visions of reading to the kindergarten and throwing a football at halftime were among the first things in my head.

Little did I know that keeping our people safe and our campus secure would quickly be on the top of my priority list. Times have certainly changed since I started working in schools. Not that I believed independent schools to be inherently safe, but there did seem to be an ongoing rationalization among those of us working in them that horrible things only happened in public schools.

To maintain a critical focus on safeguarding my school, I decided to pursue national certification as a school safety manager. From that training, I developed these “Three Ps” for Pinewood Prep.

Presence

The most important aspect of campus security is our awareness and presence during critical times of the day.

Every campus is different in layout and culture, and in the assets and liabilities it must protect. We cannot discount the importance of investments in security doors, gates, cameras and staff in raising that bar of protection. (Here at Pinewood, we employ off-duty sheriff's deputies during critical times of the day.)

We cannot discount the importance of investments in security doors, gates, cameras and staff in raising that bar of protection.

But having worked with outstanding security consultants, we have also learned that there is a great deal more to the equation. The largest threats to schools are not strangers. The common thread in most school shootings is that the perpetrator had some sort of relationship to the school, as a student, teacher or parent. In fact, the trust and connectivity that our schools are built on are the very things that can hurt us in recognizing a potentially disastrous situation. Presence is our strongest currency. This means proper coverage at drop-off and pick-up. Teachers and administrators stationed at gates and doorways on a consistent basis. A school-wide understanding of the flow of people and vehicles on campus.

Processes

Clear and sustainable processes really matter. At Pinewood, we require all visitors (including parents and alumni) to sign-in and out, and to wear a large “P” sticker designating themselves as campus visitors. Vendors, college reps and even the copy repair guy must also follow this process. There are very few exceptions and when one occurs, we address it. Some visitors might complain, but it just takes time for everyone to fully understand.

Critically, faculty and staff are trained in greeting visitors who have not followed the process. A kind hello and a gentle reminder to sign into the front office are easy for everyone.

Protocols

Schools need clear protocols to respond to unwanted visitors or potentially dangerous situations. A few years back we had frequent dealings with an unwanted crew of skateboarders. After months of frustration, we developed a clear response: Faculty and staff were instructed to immediately dial 911. Intervention from our wonderful county sheriff’s office solved the problem.

Of much greater importance are clear and well-drilled protocols for an active shooter situation. Every year, we have multiple drills drawn from advice provided by a variety of sources: our state association, local law enforcement, our security consultant and a parent or two with applicable experience. We try to remain current in the debate over how to respond to such events, and we are developing a new protocol for when kids are clustered in large groups, such as playground, gym or cafeteria.

All types of schools should invest in campus safety and security. Beyond security tools and products, however, we must also invest in time and brainpower to develop a plan to maximize our presence at key times during each day, manage campus visitors and respond to potentially dangerous events. This work ultimately serves as the foundation of a safe and secure school community.

Steve Mandell is head of school at Pinewood Preparatory School, a day school serving students from preschool through grade 12 in Summerville, South Carolina.

From Net Assets NOW, August 22, 2017. Read past issues of CEO Notebook.

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