A Mother’s Reckoning

A Mother's Reckoning

“By telling my story as faithfully as possible, even when it is unflattering to me, I hope to shine a light that will help other parents see past the faces their children present, so that they can get them help if it is needed.”

This is how the book, A Mother’s Reckoning, begins, and it is a  courageous effort that will leave you with a heightened sense of empathy and an emotional mix that eludes a label.

This is how the book begins, but the story begins in another way. It shatters our security and every sense of what we believed, with the unfolding of theretofore-unimagined horror.

Sue Klebold begins her story with the phone call from her husband Tom that changed everything. She takes us on a profound journey from that long horrific day in April 1999 to near-present day. She allows us to know her: to hear her questions, witness her grief, and feel the dawning of her realization that her beloved son did in fact destroy many lives. By sharing so much, we are able to experience perhaps a tiny sliver of her sadness, grief, shame, incomprehension and loss; and come away with an undeniable “there but for the grace of God go I” sentiment that will echo through our days.

Sue Klebold allows us to scrutinize her parenting as she details the life of her son, Dylan. She takes full responsibility for missing signs of a troubled young man. But Dylan was not always troubled. In fact, Sue shows us the Dylan who was gifted, sweet, caring and worked with young children. As she so eloquently states, “the disquieting reality is that behind this heinous atrocity was an easygoing, shy likable young man who came from a ‘good home’.” His parents eschewed guns, were careful about the movies they allowed their sons to watch, and “put them to bed with stories and prayers and hugs.” This offers little comfort to the masses. It exposes the vulnerabilities in all of us.

The reality is that we will never stop all of the suicides or violence in our society, but by being exceedingly aware and vigilant, we can change some outcomes. We can trust our sense of anything at all being “off” and take actions that can help an individual in untold ways. Often, this will interrupt the pathway to suicide or violence. This, after all, is Sue Klebold’s mission, and her hope for all of us.

Regardless of your feelings about the Columbine High School attack, A Mother’s Reckoning is a humbling and enlightening read. I encourage you to make the time to read it. If you’re looking for additional reading material on school safety and violence prevention, you can find my carefully curated reading list here.

Keeping Schools Safe – a Podcast

Keeping Schools Safe Podcast

I recently had the pleasure of working  with Dr. Mike Robinson of Forest of the Rain Productions, an educational affairs agency. Forest of the Rain Productions provides a wealth of education resources that I think you’ll find useful.

Dr. Robinson also produces a series of podcasts based on just 3 questions. This format keeps the podcasts brief enough for easy listening, yet gets to the heart of important educational issues.

You can listen to the most recent 3 Questions podcast, Keeping Schools Safe with Youth Risk Prevention Specialists, right here.

If you’d like to know more about anything you hear, feel free to contact me. I’m always happy to answer your questions.

What Type of Administrator Are You?


Administrators: What's Your Type?

I come across many different types of administrators in my work with schools. Each is unique in the way he or she approaches school safety. I think we can learn something from every one of them.

What type of administrator are you?

  1. One type of administrator worries about being adequately prepared, but isn’t sure what steps to take to augment the district’s current safety plan. She is also worried about the cost of improving physical safety and training staff and students. This type of administrator would like to do more, but isn’t sure where to start.
  2. One type of administrator attends conferences and reads a lot about school safety. He worries about school safety and makes improvements where possible but isn’t sure the district has a cohesive and comprehensive plan. This administrator wonders whether piecing together various components adequately addresses school safety.
  3. One type of administrator considers the time savings in adopting a school safety or crisis response plan from another district or consortium. While administration has the best of  intentions, everyone is busy and no one has had time to personalize the plan yet. Many staff members have not read it in detail. This administrator worries about exposure to a potential lawsuit should an emergency occur in his or her district.
  4. One type of administrator takes school safety very seriously but does not have the time to invest in it herself. She assigns the tasks to other staff members and trusts that they are doing a good job with it. They very likely are doing a good job, but this administrator could be caught off-guard if something happens and she comes under fire for not knowing the ins and outs of the district safety plan.
  5. One type of administrator understands that he needs to do everything possible to keep the school community safe and that safety is not his area of expertise. This administrator trusts a professional safety consultant to review the district’s current safety status and assist with filling any gaps. This administrator sleeps well at night, knowing he has done everything that can be done to protect those in his care. Should something happen in his district, this type of administrator will likely be held up as an example of an outstanding, caring and prepared leader whose foresight has saved lives.

If you value the types of things discussed in this post, you’re the type of administrator for whom I write this blog and the type of person with whom I work best. To learn how I can help your district significantly improve its level of safety, contact me to arrange a no-cost no-obligation consultation.

Post-incident report shows how to increase school security

School Security post incident report

My last post detailed what we learned about threat assessment from the 2013 Arapahoe High School shooting of 17-year old Claire Davis. As stated previously, I never want to place blame or criticize anyone’s safety efforts, as we all face challenges when it comes to putting the best safety practices in place (or even knowing what they are, as this field is constantly evolving).

The report, produced by Michael Dorn of Safe Havens International, was based on the findings of 11 experienced analysts. It cites a number of properly implemented safety practices at both Arapahoe High School and in the Littleton Public School District. It also details areas of school security that warrant attention. For the purpose of learning and further enhancing the safety of all schools, this post will address those safety practices that we need to implement in our own districts. Failure to do so can expose us to danger and liability.

Post-incident report shows how to increase school security

  • A more thorough law enforcement investigation of the attacker’s prior threats may have decreased the likelihood of an attack. Best practice dictates investigating, interviewing the student about threats made, and gathering additional information from parents and others who interact with the person of concern.
  • The attacker’s mother did not report her son’s threats to kill a female student to the school administrators, deputy, or her son’s mental health providers. Educating parents about warning signs and the process of reporting concerns can help prevent this from occurring.
  • Although the school had extensively promoted its Safe2Tell hotline, no student or staff member reported the shooter’s threats to it, despite multiple students having concerns about his behavior. A student later reported that he did not call the Safe2Tell line because he did not realize that the attacker was a danger. This is consistent with one of the reasons students don’t report concerns as identified by the 2008 Secret Service and U.S. Department of Education Bystander Study. It is critical to provide student training that clarifies reportable concerns and reporting procedures.
  • The Arapahoe High School campus was left unsupervised during lunchtime on the day of the shooting because all school safety and security personnel ate lunch at the same time, clustered in two groups. It is recommended that lunch times be staggered so security is monitored at all times, and that school security staff be supervised by a qualified district-level security director.
  • The attacker entered the school through an unsecured door that should have been locked. The door was propped open about once a week despite staff and students having been instructed repeatedly not to prop doors open.
  • There is no record of the school having a security assessment conducted by an outside team. It is recommended that such an evaluation be conducted every 3-5 years.
  • The many policies, guidelines and procedures regarding school security and safety may have overwhelmed administrators in light of their other important responsibilities. This is not at all unusual and underscores a need for districts to carve out adequate time dedicated to training, discussion, rehearsal, and review of safety plans and protocols.
  • The security camera system in place at the time of the shooting was in need of improvement and updating. It is recommended that security equipment maintenance be assigned to specific staff positions and occur on an ongoing basis.
  • Confusion around the “lockout/lockdown” protocol activated on the day of the attack resulted in a number of classroom doors not being locked in areas where gunfire could not be heard. According to Michael Dorn, this type of protocol has resulted in a “high fail rate” during simulations. It should be noted, however, that Littleton Public Schools “met or exceeded the normal standard of care for school-level emergency drills at the time of the incident.”

The report contains much more detail than this post and I encourage you to review these recommendations with your own safety team to ensure that you are making your school the safest it can be. If you need assistance, or just want to discuss whether you’re on the right track, consider an inexpensive 1-to-1 consulting session. To learn more, simply read this.