Applying Continuous Improvement models to school safety: Strengthening school security and emergency preparedness to move from “good” to “great”

Posted by on November 21, 2019

As educators, especially those with graduate and doctoral degrees, you have been exposed to “continuous improvement” and “improvement science” models as a foundation for strengthening curriculum, instruction, and school leadership.  But are you applying continuous improvement models to school safety, security, and emergency preparedness, as well?

Continuous improvement models and school safety

In Learning to Improve: How America’s Schools Can Get Better at Getting Better, Bryk et al. (2015) present the Plan-Do-Study-Act improvement cycle as a foundation for improving learning.  First we plan by defining the change, predicting what will happen, and designing a way to test the change.  Second, we do by carrying out the change and collecting data on how the change was implemented.  Third, we study by analyzing the data, comparing what happened to the predictions, and obtain insights for the next cycle.  Finally, we act by deciding what to do next on what we learned and whether we abandon the idea or make adjustments, and then start the cycle over again in our process for improving.

As we travel the country consulting for and with superintendents, principals, and their safety and crisis/emergency teams, we are often asked how they can improve their school safety planning and emergency preparedness? We look to see if they are using continuous quality improvement strategies.  Too often the answer we receive is no.

Why not? The concept of continuous improvement is not new in the educational environment. It is used in other areas of education but not regularly in safety and security. When we ask if school safety is the number one priority in their schools, we often get a lengthy pause before we get an answer.

Yet in the public realm, school safety is always number one, at least in rhetoric. But the often-hidden reality is that curriculum, instruction, and test scores are really the number one priority in most school districts.  School safety is, or at least should be, either “another number one” or an equal value number two on the list.

Apply continuous improvement to school safety, security, and emergency preparedness programs

School safety and instruction do not have to be mutually exclusive.  In fact, they should go hand-in-hand, not only in rhetoric to parents and school-community, but also in practice. Using the improvement sciences that are applied to curriculum and instruction for school safety, security, and emergency preparedness can help school leaders meet school safety goals.

Continuous quality improvement for school safety does not have to be complex. The Plan-Do-Study-Act does not require paralysis-by-analysis.  It can provide a four-step framework that can guide school leaders in evaluating what they and their school safety teams do as a part of their school safety program.  It can also provide quality data and documentation for pursuing school safety grants and other outside funding to support prevention, security, and preparedness measures.

Some areas where continuous quality improvement can be applied include:

  • Hiring and management of school police/security/SROs
  • Physical security hardware and product effectiveness and use in PreK-12 contexts
  • Training of ALL employees (including support staff) on emergency preparedness
  • Emotional, behavioral, and other mental health student supports
  • Threat Assessment

This is only a partial list, but it provides a starting point for superintendents and principals to change how you think about school safety planning.

School security and emergency preparedness assessments as a part of continuous improvement

Superintendents and principals often do curriculum audits, facility audits, and other assessments to have an independent, objective outside “second set of eyes” examine what they are doing and how they can build upon those strengths. Why should they do anything less with school safety — the area they tell parents, staff, students, and the media is their “number one priority” as school leaders?

See our School Security and Emergency Preparedness Assessment page for more information on how independent, non-product-affiliated professional assessments can be a starting point or next level step in your school safety continuous improvement process.  Is it time (or past time) for a professional assessment of your school safety program?

Chuck Hibbert is a Senior Consultant to National School Safety and Security Services

Ken Trump is the President of National School Safety and Security Services

National School Safety and Security Services

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