Michele Gay is the Executive Director of Safe and Sound Schools. Together, she and Alissa Parker founded Safe and Sound Schools to educate parents and school staff members about the most effective safety practices, in a format that is both easily understandable and immediately usable. Michele and Alissa work jointly with experts in the field of school safety to continually curate information and update the free resources and tools on the organization’s website at http://www.safeandsoundschools.org. They speak to school safety stakeholders around the country about their experiences, and the simple changes schools can implement to create safer environments. Both Michele and Alissa are dedicated to advocating for greater school safety in honor of their beloved daughters, Josephine and Emilie, who died tragically in the 2012 attack on Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Michele sat down to talk with me about the amazing work and mission of Safe and Sound Schools.
Michele, how would you describe your role within Safe and Sounds Schools?
My official title is Executive Director. With a brand new nonprofit, that means I wear all sorts of hats. I work with our contributors, select resources for the website and make them usable in a practical way, speak with communities across the country and provide training for school leaders and stakeholders on our Straight-A Safety model and the ways in which they can make their schools safer.
What were the initial goals for Safe and Sound Schools?
Our initial goals were to synthesize the best practices in school safety and boil them down for the everyday user. They need to be formatted so any stakeholder – parent, teacher, custodian, bus driver – can pick them up and understand them. They must to be easy to use because all of these people are already wearing many hats. I find that I’m using my experience as a pre-school and elementary school teacher to help me simplify all of these concepts so others can easily learn them.
What kind of movement toward those goals have you seen since the organization was created?
We have grown, and will continue to grow. We started out sharing our experiences as keynote speakers and recently began providing on-site training for communities on how they can implement safety improvement practices in their schools. We have some wonderful contributors who are school safety and subject-matter experts in their fields. When we originally reached out to them we weren’t sure whether they would want to be involved. Their response was overwhelming. We have learned so much from our team of advisors and contributors that we can pass on to others. We learn from each community we visit and it charges us up to see that there are people out there who get it, and are working really hard to bring practical solutions to the forefront.
How many people are involved with the organization, both staff and volunteers?
There are 8 volunteer board members and 4 part-time staff members, plus myself. We have a team of 15 advisors and professional contributors that includes firefighters, psychologists, school resource officers, police, education specialists, and school safety experts.
Do you have an estimate of the number of schools that have made changes as a result of your organization’s mission and outreach?
I would love to have that information! Our new website is going to have the capability to track the number of people who download our materials, so that will help. But, of course, it’s not easy to learn how they’ve been used or shared. I have done 25 speaking engagements each year and will continue to do those, along with the new training. Alissa also serves as a keynote speaker, addressing state and local communities. And, we are now launching a speakers’ bureau of subject matter experts to help us keep up. We are very excited about this.
What have you found to be the greatest challenges in your work with school safety?
So many other issues and conversations happen in our society and schools, that safety sometimes gets overshadowed. We are working hard to educate people about the ways in which school safety is do-able. The growth in this area is slow and steady. We are still working to educate about what school safety actually is. It’s more than physical security and bars on windows. Many things can be done by anyone to improve school safety. This is also an emotional subject, and once we go to an emotional place, we can lose our ability to think practically. Our response is to provide practical tools that are easy to implement.
Is there anything else you would like my readers to know?
I would like your readers to know that we are a work in progress and we will continue to grow. We provide safety resources, we visit communities to share what we know, and we learn from others. This helps to connect us, and connecting us all makes us just that much more powerful. Everything on the website is free and will stay that way. You can help educate other parents and educators by sharing our resources, liking our Facebook page, following us on Twitter and signing up for newsletters and notifications on our website.
I want to express my sincere appreciation for Michele’s time and dedication. Most importantly, I want to thank both Michele and Alissa for their work as tireless school safety educators and advocates. For a closer look at the compelling forces behind Safe and Sound Schools and its mission to help everyday folks implement the simple safety practices advocated by experts, please watch this brief video interview with Michele and Bob Gay and Alissa and Robbie Parker. Be sure to check out all of the amazing resources at http://www.safeandsoundschools.org/more-resources-safety-for-schools/.