Setting Priorities

Following closure of what may perhaps be one of the most challenging school years in recent times, work and preparation for the 2020-21 school year now begins. The opening of this coming school year will present many complex and evolving issues that will demand school leaders to deliver with unprecedented preparedness and foresight.

In consideration of current events and to maintain the continued safety and security of our schools, leadership must remain flexible and proactive in adjusting to unexpected changes via prioritization and updated policy.

Current and shared priorities moving into this new school year include pandemic safety, physical safety, and diversity/ inclusion.

Pandemic Safety

Pandemic safety is a balancing act between guidance from national health agencies and expectations from parents. School leadership endeavors to maintain a positive learning environment while implementing local, state, and federal COVID-19 mandates as part and parcel of their reopening plan.

Ensuring student health and safety in response to the emergence of COVID-19, is essential to resuming daily routine and student development. Implementing sound procedure and protocols to re-introduce both staff and students back into the physical campus is paramount.

The objective of this priority is to prevent or reduce risk of spreading the virus through education of protocols and procedures with faculty, staff, and students. Leadership management of COVID-19 response will remain a balance of protecting the health and safety of the community with delivering uninterrupted learning.

Changes in procedure while maintaining continuous learning, include new social distancing and COVID-19 health agencies’ recommended protocols to reduce the risk of infection and viral spread. In-person class sizes may vary based on the recommended spacing guidelines, foot traffic on campus may be limited, and larger gatherings may take place virtually.

To enable faculty and staff to focus on student safety, and to monitor the effects of the virus on campuses, visitors may be limited to those who are critical to operations. Parents, alumni, and other guests may only be permitted in the event of an emergency. This policy may be set for reevaluation later in the school year.

Schools have purchased equipment and products to enhance disinfecting measures and to ensure campus sanitation. Each has also implemented, or plan to follow, cleaning protocols recommended by COVID-19 health agencies to help keep their campuses clean.

In anticipation of the possibility of needing to pivot to remote learning at any time, participating faculty are prepared with, or are engaged in, additional training to hone their online teaching skills.

Physical Safety

Continuing the daily mission and focus of ensuring physical safety ranks among the top priorities for school leadership facing proposed disbanding and defunding police. Proposed defunding in California, Oregon and Washington to Minnesota and New York City may directly impact physical safety. Budget cuts can result in reducing the number of school resource officers (SROs).

Removal of school/ police/ security as a response to recent events undermines1 the continued support and endorsement of one of the most influential responses to school security and safety currently in place.

Burgeoning budget cuts/ terminating contracts between schools and police agencies, can make for emotionally charged discussion with a wide spectrum of special interest groups ranging from unions to associations to parents, to faculty and staff.

To achieve a balance between these sensitive issues and realistic school safety is to support and maintain the higher priority – a safe learning environment. Bringing team members to understand the importance of this priority works toward a collaborate effort in saving lives.

Regardless of which side of the fence certain interest groups may stand, few would disagree that school safety should remain a priority and that careful consideration of available resources cannot not be ignored.

One option to compensate for physical security attenuation, is a focal shift from reactionary measures to prevention and mitigation of school violence at lower intervention thresholds.

Replacing unexpected gaps in physical security with recommended standard practices applicable below the threat assessment threshold, assist to remedy vulnerabilities below that threshold and support sustainable threat intervention at the lower levels.

Such a shift in focal plane leveraging the lower intervention thresholds, demonstrates prudent risk management and flexibility of school leadership in meeting changing school safety conditions.

Diversity/ Inclusion

During this time of civil and social unrest, schools must also rise to the challenge of continuing targeted and sustained efforts in promoting respect for diversity to foster honest, open, constructive conversations about acceptance, tolerance. and sensitivity to all ethnicities and faiths. As such, addressing diversity and inclusion presents an equally important priority.

Layered complexities of developing events warrant an urgency to continue to educate students, staff, and faculty on the impacts of racism and the lasting effects of negative type social posting.

Social and emotional well-being are part and parcel of inclusion to establish predictability and routine for students through frequent emotional check-ins and small group advisory sessions led by teachers, counselors, and coaches. Enhancing students’ coping skills through mindfulness strategies, discussions, and activities should all be tailored toward building resilience.

Leadership Notes

The most successful leaders of the learning community are those who consider themselves part of the team, leading from within, leading by example and keeping the best interests of the team at the forefront.

Such leadership inspires trust. To inspire trust is to put others first. There are no antagonists, only team members. None of this is manipulative. Identifying common ground, understanding everyone’s position, and bringing them to understand the importance of priority by reason and example, help to align objectives.

Veer from speculation or conjecture and adhere to the facts. Facts are stubborn things2 and cited sources help to avoid circular discussion. Approach these conversations non-judgmentally and set realistic and relevant priorities,

As a learning community leader, when you set an agreed-upon result as a priority few would argue your reasoning. The work effort then turns to corresponding procedure and protocol – how these results are attained. Regardless, there can be no result without priority.

Set the priority first, formulate a viable plan of action to accomplish that objective and then introduce an appropriate process to carry out those plans. No successful plan can be implemented without first setting priorities.

The editors respectfully acknowledge the following schools, presidents, directors, administrators and subject matter experts (SMEs) for their generous contributions to this article (listed in alphabetical order): Major General Arthur Bartell, President of Army and Navy Academy (Carlsbad, CA), Mr. Gary Greco, Protective Intelligence SME (United States Department of Defense, Ret.), Mr. Brian Blake, School Administrator at Toms River Regional Schools, (Toms River, NJ), Dr. F. Stuart Gulley, Ph.D., President of Woodward Academy (College Park, GA), Dr. Dana Markham, Ed.D., President of Pine Crest School (Ft. Lauderdale and Boca Raton, FL), and Dr. Robert L. Taylor, Ed.D., Associate Director of the Indiana Association of Public School Superintendents (Indianapolis, IN)

1 Reduction in the number of SROs on campus compromises the integrity of school security and safety which many schools have introduced per recommendations of commissioned studies and the U.S. Secret Service National Threat Assessment Center’s analysis of target school violence.

2 “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.” Quote from John Adams, 2nd President of the United States of America 1797 – 1801.

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