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Risk management contributes to safe, positive school system

Risk manager seeing benefits of the role after 22 years at Garland ISD

The Garland (Texas) Independent School District serves some 58,000 students on 71 campuses outside of Dallas, and is the twelfth largest district in the state. Alan Smith has been the risk manager for the district for the last 22 years. Smith was hired to supervise and investigate workers’ compensation claims, which had at that time become a significant expense to the district. “But during my first year on the job, I found ways to save money annually from the district’s insurance premiums through a self-insurance program,” says Smith. “With success in that direction, the district expanded my role with additional duties to handle all risk management functions throughout the school system.”

Smith says the field of school risk management is often misunderstood. He describes the role of a risk manager as acting in two main spheres; emphasizing prevention of incidents or accidents, and working with insurance companies and third party providers buying insurance and services. “Researching and buying insurance is an important role in prevention,” says Smith, who also describes safety awareness campaigns, participating in building inspections and contributing to the design of new buildings as other examples of preventative roles. “A risk manager will report regularly to their district’s administration about costs, risks and risk prevention strategies,” he says. A key part of Smith’s career has been taking professional development coursework through The National Alliance for Insurance Education & Research, and earning his Certified School Risk Manager (CSRM) designation.

CSRM is a career-building, five-part designation program for school personnel responsible for risk management in a district. Courses are available in-person or online, and cover the fundamentals of risk management, as well as handling, funding, measuring and administering school risks, all while emphasizing practice over theory. To earn the CSRM designation, participants must complete all five courses and pass the exams within three years. To maintain the CSRM designation, participants must update each year with additional continuing education courses. “I was one of the early members of the CSRM Program years ago,” says Smith. “Over the years of maintaining my CSRM designation, I’ve taken additional courses of interest. Every time, I’ve learned something new that I can apply in my job.”

Smith is an advocate for the importance of risk management to school districts of any size, and the vital role it can play in reducing costs and maintaining a safe, positive learning environment. “People often think of managing risk as simply buying insurance or maintaining safety, but it encompasses much more,” he says. “Not every risk can be insured against, so that’s where a risk manager can play a role in prevention.” Smith describes creating district policies and procedures, investigating incidents, acting as a liaison with insurance companies, and providing input on everything from building design to hiring decisions as important responsibilities of his position. “Risk management saves districts money, and that means there are more funds available for instruction,” he says. “The CSRM coursework can benefit administrators at any stage of their career, because every position deals with risks,” says Smith. “For a younger administrator, the CSRM Program gives them an overall context to use throughout their careers, and credentials that designate their competence in the field.”

“For an older administrator, a superintendent or someone more experienced in school risk management, this coursework serves as a review of the fundamentals, but also keeps you up-to-date with the changing nature of risks.”

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