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Protecting America's Students at School
School Safety Recommendations For 2013 and Beyond
By Clarence Johnson
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2013 Clarence Johnson, Ph.D.
All rights reserved.
The Role of a High School Principal Providing Campus Security
I was promoted to building principal at a Local High School in 1987. The school was an alternative high school. This promotion was a tremendous challenge for me because I was in charge of the entire facility for the first time in my career. As a teacher, I looked to my principal for leadership. As an assistant principal, I shared the leadership role with my principal and fellow assistant principals. For the first time, I am the leader of a school. As the leader of the school, I was responsible for communicating all success adventures to the learning community. I provided leadership at Local High School that helped improve student attendance, state test scores, and reduced student drop-out rate.
Facing Denial (Death, Evil, or Nonsense Is Always Lurking.) was my daily challenge. When I accepted the title of principal, I knew that I was responsible for the welfare of all students, teachers, custodians, cafeteria workers, bus drivers, and staff members. I knew that I must provide a learning environment for the students, a support system for the teachers, and an accountability to all parents. I knew that I must perform beyond expectations because I was an African American. The unwritten policy was that African Americans must perform higher than Whites in order to remain on the job. These comments were whispered to me during my early childhood and by former African American principals, teachers, and educators. I could not find written documentation of this policy but I was reminded of this dilemma daily. I knew that every students must be treated fairly. I had provided equal opportunity for all students as a teacher, counselor, and assistant principal. Being a building principal was different because I provided equal opportunity for all students and at the same time provided a safe environment for everyone. My actions would be evaluated every day.
My First Assignment as a Principal
My first assignment as a principal was to assign myself responsibilities that I would follow daily. I decided alone, with God as my leader, how to deal with every issue on campus. I developed a plan to protect every student and every teacher from three things daily. They were death, evil, and nonsense. I knew if I planned to address these three issues every day, I would be the best principal in the district. I knew that I could not control death, but I knew how to plan to avoid issues that could lead to death. I kept my belief that teaching was always second and safety was always first. This belief has been with me since my early childhood - my mother instilled this belief in me. I found support of these practices as a teacher, counselor, and assistant principal.
When I arrived at Local High School in 1987, I walked the campus and examined the entire facility. I walked the grounds and entered all areas. I noticed that the storage rooms were filled with materials. The swimming area had a hole in the roof. Later, during my tenure as principal, when I accompanied the superintendent during a walk-through of the campus, he observed the same hole in the roof. My superintendent of schools took immediate action and the entire swimming pool area was renovated. I developed a list of things to do and shared it with the teachers. My things to do list had 72 items and my first meaningful assignment started as principal.
Establish Protocol Every Friday and Adjust on Monday
At the end of each week, a weekly bulletin is distributed to all staff members. My first weekly bulletin was named PACE. PACE was identified as Progress at Local High School. The name of the weekly bulletin changed when Local High School was changed back to the original high school. My new weekly bulletin was named REACH. REACH was identified as Reshaping Expectations at Local High. In my weekly bulletin, I included a calendar of activities scheduled for the upcoming week. Staff members birthdays were posted on the weekly bulletin. I developed a Principal's Corner that included a variety of topics for conversation, celebration, and recommendation. My Principal's Corner always addressed a principal's denial. Activities concerning nonsense were pointed out. Policies concerning evil activities were clearly stated and emphasis placed on them not being tolerated. Serious issues involving district policies and State law were documented weekly. Safety practices performed by staff members were always celebrated. One of my weekly goals was to celebrate at least three staff members. Teachers, paraprofessional, custodians, and cafeteria personnel, and administrators were celebrated. A duty roster was established and included in the weekly bulletin. Teachers were assigned to duty posts before school, during lunch, and during dismal.
After the Columbine High School massacre on April 20, 1999, our staff met and evaluated our campus security. We had practices in place but we decided to increase our attention to details. Several suggestions were made but I made an executive order and included all staff members in enforcing the campus security plan. Due to the time restraint on teachers' conference periods, duty times were shared. A staff member was assigned to a duty station at every exit door. The City of Houston Fire Marshal evaluated our security plan and adjustments were made. Several tables were moved because of egregious violations. Folding chairs, trapezoid tables, were utilized. In one area, no table was allowed. I solicited funds from my supervisor and purchased extra walkie-talkies. A walkie-talkie was placed at every duty station. We did not have police officers on our campus, but we formed a team that rendered a secure environment for our students and staff members. At the beginning of implementing our new and improved security plan, several complaints were made by staff members. Tension was high. I remained focused and celebrated staff members during the weekly bulletin. News releases were compiled and submitted to the local newspapers. I claimed bragging rights as a secure high school. Parents approved our plan and staff members united to formed one of the finest group of educators in the Greater Houston Area. We claimed that we stood shoulder to shoulder.
My secretary posted the new and improved security plan in our weekly bulletin. Protocol for Mondays was discussed on Fridays and implemented on Mondays. At the beginning of the week on Monday morning, walkie-talkies were distributed to duty teachers and everyone reported to duty on time. A substitute duty staff member was always on stand-by. Our staff celebrated success until I received a new assignment as Director of Safe and Secure Schools for Local Independent School District. After 47 years in education in Local Independent School District and one year of retirement, I believed that the bold move I made after the Columbine High School massacre to secure our campus utilizing the entire staff, was a deciding factor in my promotion to security director.
Arrive on Campus Early Every Day
I arrived on campus early every day. On Mondays, I reported to the front office, picked up my walkie-talkie, and walked the grounds checking for nonsense and mischief from the past weekend. I examined the walls for graffiti. On days when I located graffiti, I immediately submitted a work order to the school district maintenance department. The maintenance department was always on time and supported me 100%. During my tenure in the school district, I developed relationships with all personnel that paid dividends when I became principal. I often instructed young administrators to develop positive relationships with all staff members, students, and parents. After completing the graffiti check, I looked for signs of alcohol use or drug use in hidden areas. My custodians would check the grounds on Mondays and report to me. This was included in the custodian's job description. As a principal, I checked the grounds because it was significant that I knew who had access to the campus on weekends.
I walked the halls looking for graffiti and nonsense. I checked lockers and visited the restrooms. I asked a female custodian to walk with me to check the girls' restrooms. I looked for broken windows and escape routes in the boys' and girls' restrooms. I looked for nonsense in all areas. After checking the restrooms was completed, I moved to the mechanical and storage rooms. In these areas. I checked to determined if the maintenance department or building and construction department had visited the campus on the weekend. During my walk-through, I kept a clip board to write notes and make comments if the evaluation was excellent or poor. I often looked for areas to praise personnel because this positive attitude of praise always reaped benefits for me in the future. Getting all areas up to specification and maintaining a clean and safe environment was challenging.
Looking for Nonsense and Evil Activities Requires Dedication
A student needs direction, love, and protection every second of the school day. During the campus monitoring in the mornings, I looked for students engaged in nonsense and replaced nonsense with corrections and then added directions. This process allowed the nonsense to be eliminated and denied evil the opportunity to appear. Students are carrier of nonsense and must be permitted to express themselves openly and develop a system of belonging. Several times I added an antidote to the nonsense and kept the student's respect intact. My two keys to success are hard work and work with your heart in your hand. Love was always a part of the adjustment and correction process.
After completing the walk-through of the campus, I would report to the front office and visit with my secretary. During the brief visit, I checked on all telephone calls, late teachers, bus problems, meetings, and substitute teachers. After completing this task, I instructed my secretary that I would be out in the building and would return for morning announcements. The moment following my entry in the halls, I began looking for evil. Evil activities lurked daily, as a principal, keeping focused played a major role in maintaining a safe and secure school. As I walked the halls, I greeted every student, teacher, and staff member. I spoke to everyone and did not require a reply. I kept a mental note of every individual and tried to determine if evil was lurking. Looking for evil activities requires dedication, hard work, and being at the right place at the right time. I walked through the halls and the parking lot. I always greeted high school parents with a smile and waved my hand. I opened doors for students and looked at parents trying to detect the mood for the day. As a former counselor, I kept mental notes of students' progress and passed on praise to parents who I greeted during that brief encounter. I would make comments to the parent stating, "Mrs. Smith, we are proud of your daughter. Alice made a 97 on her Algebra II exam in Mrs. Morgan's class. She is getting prepared to attend Baylor University next year. I know her dad wants her to go to Prairie View A&M." I often suggest to young administrators to know important facts about students and deliver the message to parents when they are not ready to receive a positive message. The position will give the principal the edge when trying to solve difficult problems.
Evil Lurks in the School Cafeteria
After leaving the parking lot, I entered the school cafeteria. I made my entrance through a different door each morning. Keep the students guessing because this position will decrease nonsense that could lead to evil activities. Students with needs are always looking for the principal and administrators. There are students who try to gamble in the school cafeteria. Students try to pass or sell illegal drugs in the cafeteria. This is an evil activity and could lead to a serious problem. Duty teachers are trained to look for evil activities but the principal or an administrator must be in the area at all times. Check the serving line and look for evil activities. Students who wait in line patiently are offended or upset when another student skips in line. Profanity and violence can erupt when a student skips another student in line. I developed a memory of students in the serving line and checked the serving line regularly. I was always polite when I removed a student from the serving line. Students applauded me when I made corrections and I shook the violator's hand saying, "Thanks for the compliment. If you didn't cut in line, I wouldn't get the applause." The students would often reply, "Yeah, right." After the serving line closed, I walk the halls looking for evil. I checked the restrooms looking for evil activities. I returned to the parking lot looking for evil activities. The list of evil activities was long and early identification solved many potential problems. I looked for isolated students, students crying, students serving as a look-out, group of students moving fast heading in the opposite direction, or students looking out the windows. I often looked for the sign of an activity that is not normal for that time of day. I instructed young administrators that it was critical to observe and know the habits of your students and staff members.
Nonsense and Evil Lurk During the Changing of Classes
I remained focused during each class-change. I joined administrators and duty teachers in the halls to monitor activities during the changing of classes. Walkie-talkies were utilized to communicate locations and movement. As a team, we moved counter clockwise during the changing of classes. Due to the layout of our facility, we moved constantly and were in position to respond to any altercations before they escalated. We often praised our efforts of dedication. We denied evil the chance to appear. If evil appeared, we reacted swiftly and removed it from campus. Active monitoring by school administrators must be in place to operate an effective learning zone and keep the protection of students at a high level. I kept track of potential problems and established protocol for the day. When a student was experiencing a problem that could escalate to a bigger problem, our administrators would secure a hard copy of the student's schedule and track the student during changing of classes. Several times, monitoring was shared by all administrators. We looked for nonsense during the changing of classes.
Nonsense and Evil Lurk During Dismissal
A student needs direction, love, and protection every second of the school day. During the campus dismissal in the early evenings, I looked for students engaged in nonsense and replaced nonsense with corrections and then added directions. This process allowed the nonsense to be eliminated and denied evil the opportunity to appear. Violence lurks as a form of evil during the end of the school day. Students are carriers of nonsense and must be permitted to express themselves openly and develop a system of belonging. These are critical times. I added an antidote to the nonsense and kept the student's respect intact during the larger group during dismissal. My two keys to success are hard work and work with your heart in your hand, Love was always a part of the adjustment and correction process. Display love and praise to those students who walked by and asked for it. I knew my boundaries and what type of expressions to give to each student. All principals know the rules of engagement. I observed my students and returned positive comments each time a positive comment was given. The end of the school day is full of excitement and the potential of a principal's denial increases. All activities discussed during the school day reach a level of excitement that takes on a unique personality. Students say good bye and misunderstanding creeps into the conversation unannounced. All activities and movement were monitored carefully. We looked for signs of nonsense and evil. My security guard monitored the students parking lot and teachers parking lot for visitors who tried to sneak on campus. I walked and kept an on-going conversation with all administrators on the walkie-talkies. Constant feedback on specific locations of all administrators were vital. We looked for parents to give signals that we were on duty and in charge. This act of leadership kept our administrators in control. Parents would give an indication of potential problems before they started. They would give me a clue if they suspected trouble or if their son or daughter had shared critical information. The controlled chaos lasted for almost 30 minutes every afternoon. At the conclusion of the departure of the last bus, a sigh of relief was always welcomed. We raised our hands and gave each other a high-five!
Excerpted from Protecting America's Students at School by Clarence Johnson. Copyright © 2013 by Clarence Johnson, Ph.D.. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
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