School is an inherently hopeful proposition. Educators arrive each day full of energy and optimism for their students’ futures. It is not a profession for pessimists.
That said, educators have become sadly accustomed to tragic news in recent decades. There are roughly 100,000 public schools serving nearly 51,000,000 students in the United States. A single headline in a single school sends waves across that entire sprawling landscape.
We are now in the midst of one such wave, with the nation focused on the issue of school safety. New Jersey requires schools to hold two security drills each month. These drills simulate fire, lockdown, active shooter, and other types of emergencies. At Hunterdon Central, a group of staff and administrators meets monthly to review security protocols and recommend adjustments. Based in part on our security team’s debriefings of required drills, we have taken important steps this school year. We have brought a new emergency notification system online, allowing quicker broadcast of situations across campus and to law enforcement. Camera coverage across our campus is extensive. We frequently adjust the positions of our security guards (all former law enforcement personnel) and duty release aides to enhance monitoring. We are also working on upgrades to our security card and phone systems.
Our partnership with law enforcement is extremely important in this work. Our Prosecutor’s Office works closely with county schools. As a result, schools follow similar protocols for emergency preparedness, and benefit from frequent and detailed communications and training sessions. Hunterdon Central is also indebted to the Raritan Township Police Department. For years, we have been fortunate to have an RTPD officer stationed in our school. This past week, we began to plan for additional on-campus training for their officers.
Our partnership with parents remains most important. You know your children, their social media activity, the stresses and situations with which they contend, their hopes, and their fears. Open lines of communication with you about your kids allow our teachers and counselors to provide tools to help keep everyone safe.
I must note that as schools deal with the issue of safety, we run the risk of adding so much physical security that schools begin to look and behave like prisons. None of those systems can accomplish more than the relationships and partnerships that we build with our parents, our community, and our children. The lessons that we take from the shooting in Florida, and our own recent and tragic loss, require us to prioritize student mental health as an essential component of safety. No student should feel alone, unsafe, or unknown. I believe that success with this goal is far more important than our percentile ranking on a Department of Education performance report, our results on PARCC and SAT, and whether or not our teams win championships. In addition, I know that a highly functioning community of supportive relationships accomplishes all of those other things as byproducts of being a place that folks trust with their best efforts.
I have only been your superintendent for a few months, but I have already seen so much greatness at Hunterdon Central. Though some of it has shown itself through adversity, more is in the day-to-day care that everyone here extends to one another.
Each day, thousands of Central students join their millions of peers across the country to grow and learn with each other, and with us. We have a unique campus that invites open exchange, freedom, and individualization. In the conversations ahead, society must prioritize mental health and wellness as the basis for safety. If we focus instead on limiting exchange, freedom, and individualization in the name of a deeper feeling of security, we will have lost something that is essential to the mission of schools in this country … and that is at the heart of Hunterdon Central’s identity.
Central, like all schools, is and must remain an inherently hopeful proposition.
In the coming weeks, we will announce opportunities for the community to join us in workshops and conversations about security, mental health, and wellness. We hope that you will be able to take part in this work with us!