On Friday, December 14, 2012, as our January 2013 issue was about to be published, we received the horrifying news with the rest of the world about the shootings at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., a community just 35 miles from our office. Several staff members have ties to the town and the children of a colleague are students at the school. But while we were relieved that our colleague’s children were safe, we were grief-stricken at the loss of so many others. The 20-year-old gunman took the lives of six adults and 20 children, in the deadliest attack on a K12 school in U.S. history.
The devastating reports from Newtown plunged Connecticut and the nation into shock and numbness as details of the tragedy became known. But there were also amazing examples of heroism as the staff exercised professional instincts and post-Columbine training to protect the children. These include Principal Dawn Hochsprung and School Psychologist Mary Sherlach, who died rushing the shooter when he first entered the building, and teachers such as Victoria Soto, who was shot at the door of a closet where her first-graders were hiding.
Although the gunman had firepower to kill everyone in the school, the teachers at Sandy Hook had undergone many hours of drills in emergency measures, and they locked down classrooms, pulled blinds, turned off lights and tried to move students to safer areas. Newtown Police Chief Michael Kehoe said that lives were saved because of this training and because of the security systems already in place, the immediate responses by the school staff, and the rapid response by local law enforcement.
Upgrading Your District Security
Any K12 district is vulnerable to threats of violence, so the tragedy at Newtown should impel all of us to review and update security and provisions for crisis response. These include making design and structural changes in buildings, introducing electronic monitoring technologies, including cameras and sensors, and reviewing and potentially upgrading visitor-screening and reporting procedures.
Recent features in District Administration address these concerns, such as “Designing Safe Facilities” and “Enhancing School Access Control,” and “Reflections on Sandy Hook” and “Training for Tragedy” in this issue. And each of these topics is searchable on our website (www.DistrictAdministration.com). You can also review what other school systems are doing through the news reports and district profiles in each issue, and breaking information provided in our free “DA Daily” and “District CIO” newsletters. There is also a “security” content tab at the top of the DA webpage, which will bring you to an array of focused resources.
School security is a huge and growing market with countless products, approaches and alternatives, so accurate and timely information is essential. Therefore, whether you consider major renovations such as redesigning building entranceways, and/or installing security systems, physical surveillance equipment, and devices to control school access, or seek to implement new security training programs, District Administration will help you make informed and reasoned decisions. Looking ahead, we will also address renewed national calls for gun control and proposals to station armed guards in schools. If you have experience and insights on these topics to share with the DA community, please send your thoughts to me at the address below.
The tragedy in Newtown touched us profoundly, and our deepest condolences go to the families, staff, students, and community of Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Odvard Egil Dyrli
District Administration magazine