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Leading in a School Safety Crisis: New Portal and Hotline Offer Help to Administrators

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Hurricanes, shootings, bus crashes, and other catastrophes forced many district leaders to navigate uncharted waters last school year.

But how many district leaders know what to do to prepare for or lead through such crises?

Because such disaster training and management are not generally included in educator preparation programs, the AASA, the School Superintendents Association, has launched a new, one-stop web portal to help district leaders before, during, and after a crisis.

The online portal—aasacentral.org/school-safety—which went live this month, has resources to help district leaders through school shootings, hurricanes, tornadoes, student suicides and other tragedies.

A key resource are the 21 education leaders who've had firsthand experience leading through crises in their schools and districts. These leaders are making themselves available to their peers to share their expertise and answer questions.

The portal also provides a checklist on things district leaders should think about, ranging from building strong relationships with local public safety officials and ensuring that staff and school board members know and understand the district's school safety plan before a disaster strikes to handling communications and reunification during any unfortunate event. After the immediate crisis, district officials still have to plan for what could be years-long recovery and rebuilding, depending on what calamity they are dealing with.

The tool kit pulls together resources on crisis management from other sources, including the National Association of School Psychologists, the National School Boards Association, the American School Counselors Association, and the National School Public Relations Association.

The AASA has also set up a crisis hotline that administrators can call with questions and concerns about school safety. The 24-hour hotline is manned by Joseph Erardi, the former superintendent of the Newton district in Connecticut. Erardi started in Newtown two years after a gunman killed 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. He helped put together the tool kit.

The list of mentors includes district leaders with experience dealing with floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, and school shootings.

Among the 20 experts available to help:

  • Frank DeAngelis, the long-time principal of Columbine High School;
  • Troy Albert, a principal in Salem, Ind., who has experience with tornadoes;
  • Janet Dunlop, the superintendent of the Broken Arrow District in Oklahoma, who has experience in mental health after student suicide and deaths in the school community;
  • James Robinson, who was a former assistant superintendent of East Rockaway in Long Island, N.Y., which sustained millions of dollars in damage from Superstorm Sandy; and
  • Janet Robinson, who was the schools chief in the Newtown district at the time of the Sandy Hook massacre.

The AASA says the tool kit is a work in progress, and administrators can also make suggestions. You can access the School Safety & Crisis Planning tool kit here.

Related stories:

Photo caption: Students evacuate Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., on Feb. 14. A former student shot and killed 17 people at the 3,000-student high school.

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