Chief Marketing Officer
Director of Education
Publish dateJan 19, 2023
In the second installment of our series interviewing Jill Lemond, Evolv’s director of education, we discuss ways that schools can improve safety and security without having to invest tremendous financial resources. We also talk about the impact of technology to keep students safer, and how the school of the future may look as a result of the latest innovations. Prior to joining Evolv, Jill spent 12 years as the Assistant Superintendent of Safety and School Operations in Oxford Community Schools in Oxford, Michigan.
Q. When it comes to school safety planning, who should be involved?
A. The school safety team should include a multi-faceted group of stakeholders across elementary, middle and high schools, with representation from district administrators, principals, teachers, emergency responders, members of the local police and fire departments, and community members, such as coaches, that are directly involved with students, board members, and select parents. Also, student leaders should be involved based on their insight into the student body and knowledge of the buildings.
Once the team is assembled, you need to build meaningful connections with each member while ensuring everybody fully understands their role. For example, local first responders, police and fire should be invited to tour school buildings, given access to entrances, and provided maps with room numbers on them. It’s also important to designate a primary contact for communicating to parents, students and the community. School administrators need a dedicated point of contact within local law enforcement to ensure lawful and accurate communication in the event of a critical incident. When specific roles are mapped out in the planning process, it avoids unnecessary confusion and provides a more efficient approach to incident response.
Q. For schools with limited resources, what actions can they take to improve safety?
A. There are several free and low-cost actions schools can take to improve safety. They can start by regularly reviewing their emergency operations plan. Every school has one and it’s important to review them at least once a year, if not more frequently.
Another free resource for schools is the School Security Assessment Tool. The assessment module and related forms are available to complete and prompt meaningful discussions about safety. For example, the checklist asks important questions that may not immediately come to mind, such as whether there are boulders or other obstacles near the school that will prevent a car from entering. Active shooter drills are another free exercise that should be conducted on a regular basis. To prepare, schools can access one of the many free tools available online. As a reminder, the drills should be conducted in a way that is age appropriate and ensures everybody in the school—including substitute teachers, paraprofessionals, office staff, and food service personnel—knows what to do if an active shooter is in the classroom, hallway, cafeteria, or any other part of the building. There should also be a dedicated lead in every school district that is responsible for ensuring safety plans do not sit on the shelf and that training happens regularly.
While these are some of the free options available to schools, it really comes down to having a layered approach to school safety.
Q. What do you mean by having a layered approach to school safety?
A. A layered approach is one that looks at all facets of safety and recognizes that there’s no one single action you can take that will keep a school safe. Rather, it’s a series of small steps and big actions working together to protect everybody in the building. A layered approach combines people, training, technology, and the operational processes around each to ensure a cohesive plan for safety.
You can think about it in three tiers:
1. Prevention - The first is prevention and creating an atmosphere of safety through ongoing training, regular drills, taking advantage of the free resources available, and regularly refining safety plans. It can also include weapons detection screening solutions like Evolv Express®. The activities and plans put in place by the school should not be available to the general public. It also needs to include connecting with students and checking in regularly, especially those that may be overlooked or bullied.
2. Mitigation - The second tier is mitigation. The key stakeholders need to know how to identify and respond to threats. Those threats may be happening in person with physical weapons or verbally using threats of violence. They may also include online discussions that are overt threats. They may also be more subtle such as taking a closer look at the victim(s) of bullying.
3. Response & Communication - The third tier is all about response and communicating with students. It also factors in how to respond to parents, the community and other stakeholders in the event of an incident while taking steps to reduce future tragedies.
Q. As school gun violence continues to rise, school safety has become more complex. What have been the most impactful changes that you’ve seen over the course of your educational career?
A. I’d have to say the most impactful changes are the demand for improving school safety and the speed of technology innovation to do just that. The rise in school violence has reached epidemic proportions, and as a result, there has been a public outcry demanding we, as a society, do more and do better to protect our kids.
Along with continuously training and refining safety protocols and emergency operations plans, technology has made a significant difference. For example, schools are installing panic buttons in classrooms, using online tools like Gaggle to be alerted about potential threats and plans being discussed on social media, and setting up emergency messenger systems to instantly communicate an emergency throughout the building and to local law enforcement and first responders. All of these technology innovations make a difference in responding to incidents more quickly while also setting a tone for zero tolerance when it comes to school violence.
Q. How do you envision school safety changing in the next 3-5 years?
A. I think we’ll continue to see tech guiding safety response. Schools, and especially parents, will demand better ways to identify and address potential threats. As they see the increased use of non-threatening weapons screening systems like Evolv at public venues including stadiums, theaters and amusement parks, they’ll want the same safety and security measures in schools.
Also, as technology continues to offer increasingly more innovative ways to improve safety and protect schools, we’ll see those technologies become more integrated. For example, the ability to bring together weapons screening systems, artificial intelligence, cameras, automated locks, and mass notification systems will help identify and address threats sooner. Having some or all of these systems in place helps reduce anxiety and allows everybody to stay focused on learning.
You can read the first article in the series, “How to Engage and Include Students in School Safety,” here.