Keeping Peoria County Schools Safe

by Elizabeth Crider
Peoria County Regional Office of Education

After the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, there was a notable shift in the conversation around school safety. Parents began to contact schools; students used their voices to demand change; and the inboxes of school administrators filled with articles, advertisements and ideas from all corners of the business and education worlds to offer suggestions on how to promote safety.

It is a tough landscape to navigate in today’s environment due to the wide range of potential solutions. Schools are discussing special door locks, protective glass, bulletproof backpacks, armed personnel and mental health services—as well as changing the way we respond to dangerous situations. But many of these solutions are expensive, draining resources from other areas of a school’s budget. While there is no price tag for safety, we can’t spend our way to being safe.

School safety comes down to a community conversation that supports multiple processes and efforts to promote a healthy school climate and culture. From Parkland, we learned that everybody knew something, but no one knew everything. The old adage, “It takes a village to raise a child,” still holds true. Schools, families and local agencies must work together to effectively address the emerging issues surrounding school violence and mental health. It takes everyone.

Engaged in the Conversation
Peoria County school districts, in cooperation with the Peoria Police Department and Peoria County Sheriff’s Office, have been strategically and proactively working to keep our schools safe for years. As Regional Superintendent, I can’t express enough gratitude for the efforts of Lt. Steve Roegge of the Peoria Police Department and Lt. Jon Quast of the Peoria County Sheriff’s Office. Both have met with each and every school superintendent and building principal in Peoria County to review safety plans and procedures. For three years, we have jointly hosted a Back to School Safety Summit in August. Lt. Roegge and Lt. Quast have conducted countless lockdown drills to prepare students and staff, and both have taken part in professional learning opportunities for school administrators and other stakeholders.

Because safety is a community effort, this conversation has extended to organizations including Children’s Home, Peoria Area Chamber of Commerce, Hult Center for Healthy Living, Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board, and other agencies and nonprofits. In addition, Peoria County is represented by three members on the statewide Illinois Terrorism Task Force, which developed best-practice recommendations for schools during this challenging time. Most of our area schools have participated in Behavioral Threat Assessment Team training to address threats of violence towards schools. As you can see, we are engaged in the conversation at all levels.

Being Able to WIN
Whenever we convene to discuss school safety, Lt. Quast relays how we will address school violence in Peoria County, stating, “It is not what we have between or in our hands that will keep us safe, it is what we have between our ears.” The approach is one of common sense, mixed with what it will take to make decisions that save lives, or WIN. That means paying attention to the environment to decide “What’s Important Now.” It means being mindful, reaching out to students in need and doing everything possible to prevent a tragedy. Being able to WIN means providing mental health services and support. It means that if we are ever faced with a challenge to school safety, we will make the best choice in the situation to increase the odds of preventing a tragedy.

As community members, we all need to be asking what’s important now. How can we partner in a mindful way to bring awareness to the greater community? How can we all be prepared to take action and set in motion an intervention when there is a student concern? In Peoria County, the WIN has included agencies, governments and the community working together to support school safety. As a mom, educator, lifelong resident of Peoria County and Peoria County Regional Superintendent, I am grateful for the dedicated efforts of all our partners to the safety and well-being of our collective communities. iBi

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