A recent article in the National Business Officers Association’s (NBOA) NetAssets magazine (an excellent resource for independent schools around the country) piqued our interest here at Joffe. The topic was safety in independent schools, but more specifically, the framing of our schools as “soft targets” by many in our current media and political ecosystem.
Just as Jeffrey Shields, author of the piece and President and CEO of NBOA eloquently argues, we at Joffe also disagree with the use of militarizing terms like “soft targets” in relation to schools. Shields notes that these kinds of terms are “rightfully incomprehensible in relation to the knowledge, skills, and experiences that our school’s leadership, administrators, and faculty have developed throughout their careers.” However, there’s no doubt that school communities everywhere are appropriately focused on protecting the people on their campus.
From our perspective and experience, there is an opportunity cost in framing the important discussion of school safety in terms of "we must harden our schools to protect them." Anytime Joffe partners with a school, one of the first things we do is take it upon ourselves to better understand the culture of the community we’re going to be working with. Integrating changes into an established culture, as opposed to an entire overhaul, is the most effective way for those changes to stick. There are approximately zero independent schools in the country who would not deal with an intense level of culture shock upon the militarization or “hardening” of their community. In fact, while it might bring some peace of mind, these sort of actions aren’t even the most effective way to protect people on your school’s campus.
Almost every single time we observe a new school, we find that their strength is in their students, faculty, and staff. The deep connections that run throughout a school community are utilized for many things: fundraising, academic and athletic success, and personal growth. Why not safety as well? The better we know our community, the better prepared we are to quickly take action when problems arise. If we know the baseline, we can adjust faster when things change. Deep, grounded connections within your environment are the best way to be agile and ready to tackle safety concerns.
Of course, as the NBOA notes, schools can and should take action on multiple fronts to improve their safety. Emergency drills and planning, creating an Incident Command Structure, and designing crisis communication plans all will bolster a school’s ability to respond to disaster. Threat assessment generally is another useful way to improve school safety. As Shields notes, a team that “gathers and assesses information about [potentially dangerous] behaviors” is one of the best ways to prevent school shootings. However, the idea that the way to school safety is to build barriers around ourselves is simply one we (and the NBOA) cannot endorse.
Check out NBOA’s excellent article here. If thinking about school safety made you realize you have some gaps in your planning, check out some of our other articles on school safety below. Or, head to our school safety programs page to learn more about the services Joffe provides for independent schools across the country.