The safety of their children is at the forefront of every parent’s mind, particularly in a world where security concerns continue to escalate. When presenting your school to potential families, it’s essential to not only discuss but also showcase the proactive steps taken to protect the precious lives within your care. This way, you can offer parents the reassurance they seek when entrusting their children to your school.
A few days had passed since the most recent school shooting. My thoughts raced back to it as I inched forward in the car line, preparing to drop my three children off for another day of school. I’d been thinking more lately about our initial visit to this Christian academy. My husband and I had been impressed by the investment such a small school had made in a high tech security system. The principal’s dedication to the wellbeing of our children was a considerable factor in our choice to place our children there. Although I realized more than ever that a security system and preparedness couldn’t always prevent a crisis, I had also seen an example of how a good system and trained teachers could save lives that would otherwise have been lost.
After saying goodbye to the kids and exiting the line of vehicles, I did something impetuous. I buzzed in and requested a quick visit with the principal.
“I’m so sorry, but could you remind me of all the things you’re doing to keep students safe?” I asked. “My husband and I were so relieved to see how seriously you took security when we first visited, and I’d love to hear again about the protocols you have in place.”
A warm smile lit up the principal’s grandmotherly face as she invited me to take a seat. For the next 20 minutes she walked me through the systems we’d discussed at our initial interview and went on to share more recent protocols she’d written up with the help of local SLED agents. Although no system comes with a 100% guarantee, she reassured me that the school was doing everything within their power to safeguard the premises and the precious lives under their care. More than that, she demonstrated this truth by giving me reasonable specifics.
I walked away from that meeting bursting with gratitude and an increased sense of commitment to the academy. It had become all the more apparent that my kids are not just attending a good Christian school; they’re attending a school where faculty members genuinely care about their souls, their education, their lives. This was a win-win meeting for me as a parent and for the school. By taking her valuable time to address parental concerns and presenting a solid case for school security, the principal had actually (probably unknowingly) been marketing the school’s strengths. As a result, three currently enrolled students were more grounded there/less likely to leave (retention) and other prospective families were more likely to hear from the mom about the school’s strengths in this area (referral).
Based on my conversation with this first-rate principal as well as ongoing discussions with others involved in the Christian school arena, I’d like to share the “Six P’s of Security” that you would do well to share with your prospective (and current) parents as you communicate your proactive stance and genuine concern for the wellbeing of their children.
The Six P’s
Perhaps your school is doing all of the below extraordinarily well, or perhaps you’ve majored on one or two points. We’d encourage you to highlight your areas of strength and also consider improving any areas which are weak at your Christian school.
You’ve already got two feet in the door on this one. After all, if you’re a Christian school, you’re a private school. Yes, that means you’re not supported by the government and thus have more freedoms: you choose your own curriculum, incorporate prayer and Scripture reading, make your own rules, enforce a dress code, etc. It also means not just anyone can come through your doors. There is an application process, an approval committee, and the ability to expel someone who at any point ceases to abide by your codes of conduct. Parents know this when they sign up, and this is one reason why, to some degree, private schools have been considered safer in general than public schools.
There may be even more ways your school shows a “privacy strength.” On a more tangible level, does your school have tinted doors and windows to prevent passersby from peering inside? Does your playground or ball field have a privacy fence surrounding it? Are you situated in a small community where everybody knows everybody and, thus, you and your staff are able to quickly recognize outsiders entering the school grounds?
How might your school be fostering a more guarded and selective environment than, say, the public school? List out these ways your school excels and be ready to share them casually when appropriate – during the admissions process, the school tour, or when applicable questions arise. Remember, each aspect in which you excel is a block that can build stronger confidence in your school.
2. Protective Measures
Protective measures act as a frontline deterrent to potential security threats and help assure parents that their children are in a secure environment. Examples of these measures include security systems, alarms, cameras, doors with automatic locks, entry buzzers, security officers onsite and/or trained office personnel.
Some of these measures can be quite pricey. I know of a school that recently installed a $40,000 alarm system. This was a big sacrifice for a small school, but the message it communicated to parents was loud and clear. “Your top priority is our top priority: We value your kids.” While you don’t necessarily have to spend that kind of money to put protective measures in place, it’s doubtful you will find solid systems for free. (Then again, maybe you have a church member or school parent who sells/installs these security systems and would love to make a donation? Hey, it doesn’t hurt to dream!) If you need a system but don’t have the finances in your regular budget, consider promoting a special fundraising banquet or other event for the cause. You may be surprised by how many people sincerely care about this issue and are willing to make sacrifices to help you reach your goal.
3. Proactive Trainings
Many private agencies as well as local law enforcement officers are now offering preparedness trainings for school staff. This often means organizing a workshop for your teachers either pre-term or mid-term. This proactive training has been credited with saving many lives recently. When a school shooter was able to invade a private school and pass through its protective measures, the proactive training teachers had taken prepared them to act quickly, wisely, and heroically.
If you don’t know where to look for these trainings, you’ll find some links at the end of this post to get you started. If you’ve already completed a proactive training or are completing annual or semi-annual workshops, let parents know. They’ll be glad to hear you’re taking security that seriously!
4. Protocols In Place
“We actually have a meeting scheduled for this Thursday to review our safety protocols,” she said, swiveling her chair so I could see the Word document on her computer. “I wrote this up with the help of SLED agents at the beginning of the year, and we review it regularly as a staff so we’re all up-to-date.” The principal went on to tell me how she went down to the police station at the beginning of the year to talk to the officers and help them get to know the Christian school “just over the bridge.” While there, she asked for advice on safety protocols and got all the help she needed. It didn’t cost a thing, yet the result – getting well-advised safety protocols in place – was priceless!
Does your school have safety protocols written up? Does each teacher have a copy, and are these protocols reviewed on a quarterly/semi-annual/annual basis? Are your classes regularly practicing various drills (e.g., fire, tornado, active intruder, etc.)? Establishing and practicing safety procedures better prepares your school for emergencies and provides a greater sense of comfort for concerned parents.
5. Parental/Familial Connections Within the School
During my conversation with that first-rate principal, she made the comment, “My children went through this school, and now my grandchildren are here – just down the hall from my office. Of course I can’t help but think of them when I think through security measures. I love my grandkids, and I love all their school friends. I’ll do anything within my power to protect them. I want you to know I mean that.” By this point, of course, she didn’t have to tell me she meant it. She had already demonstrated it by giving reasonable specifics. But mentioning the familial connections within the school served as the cherry on top, the fitting conclusion, the “I hear you fully” moment.
Granted, this is a very indirect way of marketing your school’s commitment to top-notch security, but it stands in its own right. Here’s the question: Does your principal or your admissions director have children/grandchildren who attend the Christian school? If not, don’t worry about it. Sharing your school’s security strengths and expressing genuine care for your students will communicate clearly and strongly without familial connections. But if those relationships are present, don’t pass up the opportunity to share that fact casually during your Educational Success Consultation or at other times when suitable. When it comes to school security and your investment in safeguarding the premises, there are few things that comfort a parent’s heart more than to hear that your own children/grandchildren are nearby and that the protocols you have in place were born out of your desire to keep them and their schoolmates safe.
Every head of school should know where the nearest police and fire stations are located. Why not also visit them sometime and introduce yourself as head of school? Consider inviting local servicemen and officers to special events. Perhaps you could even host annual career days to feature police officers, firefighters, etc.? Recognizing these men as heroes in our society builds a foundation of trust and respect between students and servicemen.
Fostering healthy respect and relationships between your school and local police officers may 1) help students develop a proper perspective on law enforcement, 2) allow policemen to get to know your staff and your campus better, 3) give you more opportunities to ask for advice/insight on security measures, 4) open more doors for your Christian school to have a positive impact/fight negative stereotypes in the community, and/or 5) increase the confidence of parents as they hear about the proximity and familiarity of the school with local law enforcement. (Who knows? Regular, positive interactions between police officers and your school may even inspire some students to join law enforcement after graduation, putting more Christ-centered, Scripture-grounded men and women in the force!)
If you have a police or fire station in close proximity and/or are able to reach out and introduce yourself, don’t hesitate to do so. Trust God to use your efforts as He wills and to bring about the connections that will best serve, inspire, and shape the security of your school.
By highlighting areas of strength within the six elements above, Christian schools can more effectively communicate how seriously they take the safety of their students. Incorporate these elements into your school tour for prospective families. Highlight them on your school website in such a way as to instill confidence without undermining the security measures in place. And, most of all, ensure that your principal, admissions director, and anyone else engaging with prospective families is ready to provide parents with honest answers that give reassurance and peace of mind.
Disclaimer & Further Resources
Hourglass K12 is not a security company, nor are we able to advise you in the realm of school safety protocols. HK12 is a business that specializes in marketing Christian schools. As parents of children in Christian schools, we see firsthand the crucial role that security now plays in families’ educational choices. If your school needs to improve your security measures, we encourage you to seek professional counsel for your particular situation. SchoolSafety.gov has a Safety Readiness Tool as well as instructional articles which we’d recommend you check out. You might also look for workshops available in your area by checking out places like the National Center for School Safety, National School Safety and Security Services, and CIS. (There are other options, too, so be sure to do your research!)
Remember, you can’t market what you don’t have. Take security seriously so you can answer parents’ most serious questions.