Braham, Cambridge-Isanti schools take steps to increase school safety

Increased student safety is very much on the minds of the more than 40 Minnesota school leaders who responded to a recent survey. Many districts have made changes to their buildings and changes in procedures. Here’s what several area school leaders told me.

Asked what changes the district had made after the tragic school shooting last year in Sandy Hook, Conn., Gregory Winter, Braham Area Schools superintendent, wrote: “In Braham, we have done a major physical reconfiguration of the entrances at both the elementary and secondary school. This will allow us to monitor all visitors at both sites. We have also put new locks on all classroom doors that will enable staff to secure these doors in a very quick and safe manner. Every year, we continue to train staff and students what to do in any emergency situation.”

Ray Queener, Cambridge-Isanti superintendent, responded: “Actually, the district has been working on addressing security even before the unfortunate Connecticut incident. The Long Range Facilities planning committee was meeting at the very time of the incident. As with all school districts, it has heightened the awareness and has guided our planning of building safety improvements as part of our bond referendum request this fall.

“In addition, we continually test and modify emergency plans as an ongoing process. We take school safety very seriously and are continually looking for ways to make improvements. Even though schools are considered safe, we want to make sure we do all we can to prevent incidents and should one occur, we are prepared to respond,” Queener wrote.

Shannon Peterson, of Lakes International Language Academy in Forest Lake, explained: “School security remains a cornerstone of staff training, for the unlikely case of someone intent on harm entering our school. Entrance security, hallway cameras and state-mandated safety drills continue to be key in our efforts to maintain a safe environment for learning and working. School security is a strong consideration in the planning process for our second campus. We take all these precautions despite the fact that ‘schools … are still the safest place for children in this country,’ according to Wendy Regoeczi, the director of Criminology Research at Cleveland State University. ‘Children are far less likely to be injured or killed at school than they are almost anywhere else.’”

Deb Henton, North Branch superintendent, wrote, “Following the tragic events at Newtown, Conn., North Branch Area Public Schools made some significant changes to security procedures. The senior eating area at the high school was moved to a more secure location; it had been in an area adjacent to windows accessible to the public. As well, the main entrance to North Branch Area Middle School is being moved to provide better security, School Age Care parents were asked to start signing in when picking up children, and the school district coordinated with the North Branch Police Department to enhance security and response time. Of course, we also performed a careful review of our emergency procedures to ensure we are as prepared as we can be for that contingency.”

It’s clear these and other leaders take security seriously. That’s very good news for students, educators and families.

Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school teacher and administrator, directs the Center for School Change. Reactions welcome,