By Dr. Stephen Sroka
During the last few months, I have had the chance to talk with several speakers who strongly affected their audiences. I started to think about the remarkable leaders with whomdescribe the image I have worked over the years and how they have made huge differences with their incredible wisdom, insights, and actions. I contacted some of them and asked them to comment on working in education in these difficult times. I asked them to share some take-away messages, things that if they were speaking, they would want their audience to remember.

School safety was a front page story following the tragic shooting deaths of 28 people, including 20 children, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Students need a  safe school to learn. Most of these “Tips from the Trenches” regarding school safety were written before the Connecticut shootings.

Joseph Bergant II, superintendent of Chardon Schools in Ohio, where, in February 2012, a 17-year-old student opened fire in the high school cafeteria, killing three and wounding three others:

  • “Be prepared and practice school safety plans. You never know when you may need them.”
  • “Cell phones were effective in dealing with the safety evacuation plans, especially students notifying parents with texts.”
  • “Stress the positive, not the perpetrator. Emphasize safety, learning, and services available. And don’t forget to take care of your staff, too.”
  • “Use one spokesperson to avoid mixed messages.”
  • “It takes a community to respond to school violence. Schools cannot do it alone. ‘One Heartbeat’ became the city’s mantra.”

Ken Trump, author, speaker, national consultant, and president of National School Safety and Security Services:

  • “The first and best line of defense in school safety is a well-trained, highly-alert staff and student body.”
  • “The fourth ‘R’ in education today is ‘relationships’: Adults having solid professional relationships with kids and school leaders having strong relationships with their public safety, mental health, and other community partners.”
  • “School crisis teams must plan, prepare, and practice. Dusty crisis plans on shelves are not worth the paper they are written upon.”

Mark Behrens, director of the Safety, Security and Emergency Procedures Branch of the Hawaii Department of Education in Honolulu:

  • “Schools are part of the community, a very important part of the community. Therefore for schools to be as safe as they can be we need to involve the community … parents, first responders, neighborhood boards, churches, etc. This is the best way we can ensure schools are places of honor, dignity, and respect and prepared for both natural and man-made incidents.”
  • “Schools need to create a climate of safety and respect filled with opportunities for adults and students to have meaningful relationships and open communication.”

Curtis Clay, associate director of the Texas School Safety Center at Texas State University–San Marcos:

  • “Every child has the right to come to school and get the education that she deserves. If she feels unsafe being there for any reason, she cannot get her education.”
  • “Take the issue of bullying very seriously. Teasing, joking, and playing around is normal. Bullying is not. The first step we have to take sometimes is examining our own beliefs as they pertain to this matter.”
  • “Treat each person the way they want to be treated. What doesn’t bother Johnny may have a completely opposite effect on Jimmy.”

Jeff Kaye, director of Security and Safety Services at the Desert Sands Unified School District in La Quinta, Calif.:

  • “Training is paramount to school safety. Train the school staff and the student body in areas related to school safety and emergency operations, especially lockdown and evacuation procedures. The training should be realistic and employ visualization techniques to promote mental muscle memory.”
  • “In times of stress, the students and staff will react the way they were trained. Training promotes a feeling of safety in schools, and education cannot occur in an environment where students and staff don’t feel safe.”
  • “Parental education should be incorporated in all training.”
  • “Effective emergency preparedness training cannot occur until the attitude of denial is eliminated.”

Curtis S. Lavarello, executive director of the School Safety Advocacy Council:

  • “When working with youth, I think one of the most important traits for professionals is to maintain a sense of empathy and compassion.”
  • “[For school-based law enforcement,] while you carry many important weapons to work each day, including a firearm that can take a human life, it’s important for you to remember that the most important tool you carry each day is your brain and the ability to use common sense.”
  • “Zero tolerance should not remove common sense from the equation.”

Scott Gilliam, director of training at D.A.R.E. America:

  • “Education not only opens doors to your future, it sends you in the right direction to find those doors.”
  • “Without education you will experience the door-to-door salesman’s plight: many doors will be shut in your face.”
  • “For nearly 30 years, specially trained law enforcement personnel have taught children how to make good decisions when faced with difficult choices. The greatest derivative of D.A.R.E. has been the relationship between youth and law enforcement. Many chiefs of police and sheriffs have acknowledged the decrease in crime among youth when D.A.R.E. is present in their communities.”

Mo Canady, executive director of the National Association of School Resource Officers (NASRO):

  • “NASRO comprises school-based law enforcement officers, school administrators, and school security/safety professionals working as partners to protect students, faculty, staff, and their school communities.”
  • “A well-trained, armed school resource officer is one of the best defenses against an active shooter. We provide training to school-based police officers on sound tactics that save lives during a shooting attack.”
  • “While a school resource officer is essential, school safety requires collaboration between multiple agencies and parties. No single group or person, including a school resource officer, can effectively improve safety alone. We urge involvement by parents, cafeteria staff, janitorial staff, counselors, nurses, and even students, as appropriate.”

Stephen Sroka, PhD, is an adjunct assistant professor at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland, Ohio, and president of Health Education Consultants. He has worked in schools for more than 30 years. Connect with Sroka on his website or by e-mail at