The Maine Department of Education’s Maine School Safety Center held its annual Maine School Safety Summit this week at Windham High School, with a focus on how educators, school leaders, law enforcement, and communities can increase collaboration and communication around school safety strategies. The three-day summit attracted more than 300 participants from across the state with roles ranging from school principals, social workers, and nurses to school resource officers, first responders, and emergency preparedness professionals.
Nearly 50 workshops were offered on a wide range of school safety topics, including trauma awareness; supporting the safety and well-being of young people; brain science; restorative practices; social media use; emergency operations planning; food security linked to school security; behavioral threat assessment; bus safety; and more. Staff from the Maine Department of Education’s Office of School and Student Supports and Office of School Facilities and Transportation also helped lead several workshops.
The Maine School Safety Center (MSSC) was created two years ago, and codified into law this year, with the mission of developing a safe school infrastructure that will deliver high quality, up-to-date best practices, procedures, training, and technical assistance and support to Maine schools. MSSC offers school supports and services on school emergency management, threat assessment and mental health, restorative practices, training, and school safety and security. MSSC has provided hundreds of trainings, courses, and professional learning experiences to support school staff and school leaders throughout Maine.
MSSC’s approach to school safety is comprehensive and is guided by the beliefs that supporting the well-being of students and a healthy school environment is essential to the reduction of behaviors that threaten the safety of the school community; everyone who comes in contact with students and a school system has a responsibility to help create and sustain a healthy school environment and ensure a student’s well-being; the school environment, culture, approaches to discipline, and interface with the community are crucial to the well-being of all students, and particularly to those students who are alienated from the school program and those with behavioral and/or mental health issues; and schools and communities need to collaborate to create a systematic approach to school safety.
“This summit was planned long before the tragedy in a Texas elementary school last month, but that event, and so many others, certainly underscore the fact that school safety and security, emergency prevention, and emergency response preparedness remain top concerns for students, staff, families, and communities nationwide and here in Maine,” said Education Commissioner Pender Makin in her keynote address. “This three-day event offers a wide variety of professional learning opportunities and technical assistance to help schools and their community partners enhance all aspects of school safety, ranging from culture and climate to hazard planning to crisis response and recovery planning. What is clear throughout all of the sessions, and reinforced by who is here attending the summit, is the overarching message that partnerships, relationships, communication, and collaboration are the keys to this work.”
“We all know that when we put our minds and our hearts together, we can be brilliant. Throughout the last 27 months, we have all worked together to stay safe, to keep our schools open and to make sure that we took care of our students and each other–both professionally and personally,” said Eileen King, Executive Director of the Maine School Superintendents Association. “Keeping our students and staff safe is the priority, change is the reality, and collaboration must be the strategy.”
“School boards across the state engage in and support sound school safety practices for students and staff,” said Steve Bailey, Executive Director of the Maine School Board Association. “Through the leadership of the DOE’s Maine School Safety Center, and the collaboration with other partner agencies and associations, this identified effort to expand and promote safety practices and important inter-agency relationships will be an important next step to helping keep our schools safe, while also knowing what to do and who to turn to should additional resources be needed.”
“Safety is a top priority for students and for school staff, and with safety encompassing so many things, physical and emotional/mental health, security, cyber, food security, and more, we need to do what we can to work collaboratively to address these issues and provide the public education our students deserve,” said Grace Leavitt, President of the Maine Education Association.
“It’s imperative that law enforcement and educators have an open line of communication and a collaborative working relationship,” said Chief Kevin Schofield, Maine Chiefs of Police, Windham Police Department. “It’s incumbent upon all of us to take this issue seriously and work together to make sure our students and schools are as safe as possible.”
The Maine School Safety Summit was sponsored by the Maine Department of Education, Maine Juvenile Justice Advisory Group, Maine School Superintendents Association, Maine Chiefs of Police Association, Maine Sheriff’s Association, Maine Principals Association, Maine Department of Corrections, Maine School Resource Officers Association, Strategies for Youth, and Maine School Board Association.