A Culture of Safety: Using NaviGate Prepared to Safeguard Tomorrow’s Leaders
At Princeton City Schools, everything we do is for our students. My family and I moved to the area because of the beautiful tapestry of communities and students we serve here. I truly felt the transition was going to be an outstanding opportunity for my children. Further, the chance to work in such a diverse district that has so many options for students would be an incredible experience for me.
Every day we live by our mission statement, "Empowering each student for college, career, and life success." It’s important to keep each of our 6,000 plus students safe so they can focus on their academics and extra-curricular activities. But even the best schools with the most impressive offerings, have a never-ending concern: school safety.
Safety Matters Everywhere
As a young principal, it became glaringly apparent we can never prepare enough for safety. Right after Columbine, I, along with other staff members, were doing safety talks with each grade level team. At the conclusion of the fifth of six conversations, a student came forward and told us some of our students were experimenting with making bombs/explosives. A situation like that makes you quickly realize that school safety is not about just being compliant with regulations and state laws. Rather, school safety needs to be proactive and systemic and leadership needs to be diligent each day. You need to be committed to it, and you need to make sure it's on-going. It doesn't matter where you are. You can have a small school or a large school, located in an urban or a rural area—and tragedy can happen to you.
Safety issues can be internal or external. Issues can stem from an angry student, parent, or community member. There are so many different possibilities that could happen that we need to be vigilant and focused. Schools, boards, teachers, and staff need to be committed to the time and resources it takes to be prepared. It makes me laugh when people say, “Boy, we're spending all this money and time on school safety and we never have any problems. Do we need to do it?” Of course it's critical to focus on safety and when school districts take all those precautions then the school can be responsive to issues that may arise.
Leaving Compliance in the Dust
When I first came into the district, it was clear that we needed to update and enhance our strategic plan. Dr. Thomas S. Woods-Tucker, our superintendent, through a collaborative process identified five goals. Obviously, one of those goals was safety. His focus is unparalleled, which is undoubtedly the reason why he’s won two National Superintendent of the Year awards. He wanted to make sure we narrowed in and provided structure and specific action plans based on each goal, the objectives, and activities to support all goals including our safety goal. We have a wonderful staff in our schools, but they can't be everywhere. Thus, we need to plan and use tools to assure the safety of each of our students, staff, and those in our educational community.
The state of Ohio passed mandates regarding school emergency plans, and a lot of school districts struggled with being compliant. However, we knew we had to do more than the minimum, we needed to commit. Looking for a solution that would allow us to provide the level of preparation that could let us all sleep a little easier at night, we discovered NaviGate Prepared.
Steve Castator, our Director of Security, looked for options to improve our safety and came across NaviGate Prepared. After reviewing the program with Jon Fricke, Director of Operations, it was clear that the NaviGate Prepared platform offered everything we desired.
NaviGate Prepared is fast, fluid, and flexible. They approach safety issues holistically. First, they try to understand why the problem exists, and then they not only solve the problem, but they’re also going to try to solve other potential issues that may exist within the infrastructure of the school. The platform allows us to see issues that we can’t predict.
NaviGate Prepared provides a detailed focus that cuts through the clutter of all the information you need in preparation before, during, and after an incident. Everyone thinks they already have this information, but without a proper system in place, it will take more time to retrieve the information and put it to use. In a true emergency, the last thing you have is time.
New Tool, New Team
One of the big positives about NaviGate Prepared is that it's a one-stop shop. Steve Castator is our NaviGate Prepared point person and does a phenomenal job of making sure our building maps have the essential information updated. Using the software platform, we can retrieve important information quickly. The platform has a feature called the Safety Plan Wizard, and that has been incredibly helpful in streamlining the development of our plan. The Wizard allows us to review our entire safety plan in a quick and efficient manner—ensuring we’ve gone the extra mile above compliance.
While safety is not rocket science, sometimes schools get too comfortable and with comfort, often comes complacency. People simply miss the little things and don't pay attention to details. NaviGate Prepared, Dr. Tucker, and our administrative team are very diligent in making sure our action plans are all-encompassing. The information is shared with our district leadership team, who executes the plans in all our buildings. NaviGate Prepared has truly allowed us to streamline not only the creation of our safety plans, but also the implementation and follow through.
An Appetite for Continuous Learning
We’ve learned many lessons along the way, and I would like to share four key takeaways to consider when improving your safety systems and protocols with NaviGate Prepared.
1. Be Deliberate
You may want to just jump in and try everything the software has to offer, but you have to be very deliberate with your strategy and your actions. There are many wonderful tools out there, but if you go too far too fast, it becomes ineffective. And you don't want school safety, which is so critical, to fall flat.
2. Start a Conversation
Begin by listening to the team at NaviGate Prepared. It takes a little while to get acquainted with the system and ensure you understand each step and all the tools that exist. If you’re not especially tech-savvy, their support team is incredible. Remember that knowledge is power, and that helps keep your students safe.
3. Learn From Your Peers
Go to other school districts that are further along than you. It helps to visit districts that are about a year ahead of you. Visit somebody else who's been using NaviGate Prepared for a while and see the metamorphosis that could happen within this program. Take the first step. Make the call. I’ve found that, by and large, especially with school safety, people want to be collaborative. We’ve got to help each other. We’ve been working with NaviGate Prepared for about two years now and we still seek out advice and best practices from our peers and colleagues.
4. Follow Through
Partnering with the community is often overlooked, but it’s critical. Partner with law enforcement, first and foremost, and build a network of partners who can assist with psychological support for kids if needed. Don’t talk a great game, if you aren’t prepared to follow through with actions. It’s important to turn your ideas and plans into achievable goals and set meetings at least quarterly to ensure your program is effective.
Job Number One
These best practices apply to schools and districts of all sizes. It doesn't matter where you are or who you are. If you don't have a systemic program dealing with all facets of school safety, you allow yourself to be vulnerable. And knowing that, why put yourself in a compromising position? Why wouldn't you look at a program like NaviGate Prepared?
As educators, our most important job is school safety. If you look at Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, the two most important, basic human needs are physiological and then safety. You can't empower students if they don't feel safe. You can't empower them if the learning environment is not right. We want students, community members, teachers, and all staff members to feel like they're in a safe environment where education thrives. By creating a safe and secure atmosphere, our students will flourish and live up to their potential. Doing so, we can say we’ve done our job and made our mission come alive.