John Weicker knows a lot about school security and discipline. He has lived it every day for close to 19 years as Director of Security for Fort Wayne Community Schools in Indiana.
Experience and Passion
Prior to taking on this district level role, John served as Dean of Boys at the largest of six Fort Wayne high schools from 1978 to 1991. Add those 13 years to his current role and you’ll find a school safety specialist with about 32 years of day-in and day-out, hands-on experience tackling all types of school discipline and security challenges. (He began teaching at the secondary level in 1973.)
Anyone who knows John knows that he is as passionate about school safety and discipline today as he was his first day in an administrative position. While being a strong advocate for the academic side of educational services, John strongly believes security and discipline plays more into the public perception of a school district’s success or failure than any other factor.
“I learned early on that you could have the greatest curriculum and, the greatest teachers and administrators in the world in a school or a school system, but if the kids, their parents, teachers, and administrators do not feel they are safe and secure, those schools and school systems will rightly or wrongly not be perceived as being successful. That is reality,” he said during our recent interview.
Greatest School Safety Challenges
While many school security administrators would be quick to point out declining budgets and staffing for school safety, Mr. Weicker points to three other greatest challenges he faces in leading school safety efforts in a large urban school district:
- Getting fellow educators to recognize security as a professional disciplinary expertise. “It is extremely tricky to convince educators that they need to listen to the real experts when it comes to security. Those experts are the local law enforcement and emergency responders who are located in all communities around the country. So many times, I have seen mistakes that need not have been made, if only principals and central office administrators would have simply sought out, listened to, accepted, and then supported and acted on the advice of the security experts that are located in their individual communities,” Weicker said.
- Practicing emergency plans, just not having them. Weicker’s challenge: ” To actually get educators to see the importance of not just having plans to address emergency preparedness issues, but to buy into the fact that these plans must in fact be practiced if they have any hope of actually being effective. I believe this challenge has become more serious of an issue with security practitioners as more and more pressure had been placed on the importance of “Time on Task” and “No Child Left Behind.” Folks seem to use the pressure placed on them regarding student achievement as an excuse to indicate they have no time to take the time to have staff and students be actually involved in practicing lockdown drills, off-site evacuations, and scenarios that are designed to actually get people to respond to possible emergencies that could become reality life and death situations in their school,” he said.
- Acknowledging and tackling issues head-on. His third challenge is, “Attempting to convince educators that they would be so much better off to openly address security/discipline/law violation incidents that occur in their buildings, rather then attempting to keep the occurrence of those events “Secret” and or hidden. Those attempts do not work, and are perceived rightly or wrongly as an attempt on the part of the school administration to hide what is occurring in their buildings. Everyone knows that any school’s students represent what is going on with kids in the community that they are located in, so if kids in a community are involved in gangs, drugs, weapons, etc., then to try to insinuate that the schools in those same communities do not have kids attending them that are involved in the same activities is just plain nuts. Doing so does not lead to people believing that they can trust the fact that you are being honest with them,” Weicker says.
Proactive School Safety Leadership
Among his many accomplishments, John Weicker points to three proactive things for which is particularly proud:
- Having aggressively addressed the often forgotten yet critical area of athletic event security. Weicker and his colleagues brought in national experts in special event security to review athletic event security plans and practices, and to train school staff around the county. The efforts were highlighted on the CBS Evening News, NPR, and in national print media.
- The Allen County School Safety Commission, and the Fort Wayne Community Schools, were instrumental in championing a bill that became law in Indiana making it mandatory that every school in the state hold at least one emergency lockdown drill every semester. The Commission was also successful in getting the Allen County Elections Board to remove/relocate election polling sites from most county schools in order to reduce security risks to schools.
- Middle school central administration mandated Fort Wayne Community Schools’ middle schools (11 total) practice off site evacuation drill once every year. Due to this emphasis, many of the district’s elementary schools (34 total) and high schools (6 total) have followed suit on a voluntary basis.
Most Important Advice
John provides two simple, but powerful, pieces of advice to his colleagues around the nation:
- “First and foremost, I discovered early-on the absolute necessity of forming and maintaining a positive collaborative working relationship with local law enforcement and other emergency responders The trust and working relationship that I began to develop in 1978 has served our schools and myself well over these many years. Such relationships are not universally shared in many locations around the country,” Weicker said.
- “Equally important is to have people who you can depend on to tell you what they believe to be right, not what they believe you want to hear. I have sadly seen many folks in authority who have been destroyed after making stupid decisions that perhaps would not have been made had they had in their “Band of Better Angels” those who would have argued and/or expressed an opposite point of view.This is especially something people should consider when choosing to employ a school safety consultant,” Weicker stressed.
The bottom line, Weicker says, “I, like most, want desperately to be able to look at that ‘Man in the Mirror’ on the day after a tragedy and be able to tell him with honest confidence that I had done everything that I could to have avoided it.”
I am proud to have Mr. John Weicker as a trusted professional colleague and friend, and to name him as our first formally recognized School Safety Leader!