Mark Johnson: School safety takes all of us working together
I’ve seen many back-to-school sessions as a teacher, a school board member and as state superintendent of North Carolina’s public schools. This year, I saw my first as parent of a child in our public schools when I dropped my daughter off to start kindergarten.
As state superintendent, I want you to know that your child’s success in school and beyond is our top priority. To reach that goal, we must make sure we create safe environments for all students.
Just as I want it for my daughter and her school, I want all North Carolina parents to know that their children and their classmates and teachers will be safe.
School safety is important every day, but with tragic events at schools fresh in all our minds, now is a good opportunity to focus on what we can do to protect North Carolina’s most precious resource – our more than 1.5 million students.
We are increasing school safety measures including mental-health supports in our schools. Over the summer, we worked with the General Assembly to secure more funding focused on school safety.
While almost all high schools already have a School Resource Officer, an expanded grant program we started for this school year put more SROs into elementary and middle schools across the state.
SROs are important for many reasons. They are law enforcement officers who take an oath to protect and serve. Students can gain trust in law enforcement by interacting positively with SROs, building a sense of community. And, SROs provide both a deterrent to violence and a first response to events if they should occur.
The goal, of course, is not to have those events occur. We need to do everything we can to prevent one student’s challenges from becoming a school tragedy.
So, following the work of the N.C. House of Representatives Select Committee on School Safety, we have provided grants to increase mental-health professionals and resources in schools. These increased efforts will come from innovative programs run by school districts and by community partners.
As working with community partners shows, we believe that schools cannot tackle this issue alone.
Teachers and other school staff members work hard to ensure safe environments, but they need our help. Students, parents, caregivers and community and faith organizations all have a role to play.
Visit NCsuperintendent.com/schoolsafety for tips on how you can help us support safe schools.
October is National Bullying Prevention Month. Reporting and stopping bullying are great examples of how students and parents can help us create safe environments at school for all students.
We also want to make it easier for everyone in the community to share information that can prevent school violence, bullying, drug and alcohol abuse and other concerns.
After running a pilot program in five counties, we are developing a statewide mobile app allowing anonymous reporting of tips supported by a 24/7 safety command center.
Until this app is ready for next school year, please share concerns with law enforcement or school officials.
September was School Safety Month and October is Bullying Prevention Month, but it will take vigilance all year long to keep schools safe.
Whether you are a parent like me, a student, a teacher or a community volunteer, let’s work together to ensure a great school year for all our educators and students.
Mark Johnson is the state superintendent of public instruction.