Teaching and learning are not possible unless your students and staff are secure and safe. That’s why school security has become a major focus in local school districts.

When I started my career in education some 40 years ago, the need to focus on school security was not as urgent as it is today. Back then, schools were wide open to any visitors. The world was not as threatening a place as it is now. We had not experienced tragedies such as Columbine or Newtown.

However, times change, schools change, and we have to meet new challenges to ensure the security of our students and staff.

The New Jersey School Boards Association is helping schools meet those challenges. The Association’s School Security Task Force, convened in 2013, released its final report, “What Makes Schools Safe?” at Workshop 2014. It is an extension of NJSBA’s Safe and Secure Schools effort that was launched after the December 2012 Newtown tragedy and which included a statewide forum at The College of New Jersey, regional programs designed for parents, and county association programming.

The task force report, which is featured in this issue of School Leader, is the product of more than a year of research and fact-finding. Experts in various aspects of school security shared their knowledge and insights with the group. A partial list of those who so generously shared their time with the task force include Dr. Maurice Elias, a nationally-known expert in school climate who is the director of the Rutgers Social and Emotional Learning Laboratory; Brian Klimakowski, the Manchester Township police chief and the New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police representative to the Governor’s School Security Task Force; and William D. (Ted) Hopkins III, a partner with Fraytak Veisz Hopkins architects.

“What Makes Schools Safe?” includes 45 recommendations on topics such as security personnel, school climate, policy and planning, communications, training, physical security, and financing security measures. The task force’s findings and recommendation will serve as a valuable resource for school board members and school administrators.

The release of the task force report at Workshop was so well received that we had requests to repeat the presentation. And we will do so at three regional programs – in the northern, central and southern parts of the state – in January and February. More information and registration details can be found on page 8 of this issue.

One of the task force’s findings is that New Jersey has strong and effective statewide school security measures in place. For example, New Jersey is one of only 10 states that requires periodic security drills throughout the school year, as well as requiring crisis plans in each district and agreements between school districts and local law enforcement agencies. These are the type of safeguards that help our schools to respond effectively to threats.

But the safety measures we have in place are a beginning, not an end. We must continually assess and improve the security of our schools. “What Makes Schools Safe?” will help school boards with that task. I urge you to read the article on the report, as well as the full report, and attend one of our regional programs this winter. Stay safe!

Dr. Lawrence S. Feinsod, executive director, NJSBA