There are many tragedies related to the recent string of school violence in our communities. The fact that we are spending our valuable time and limited resources struggling to keep our children safe rather than being able to spend it on learning is both sad and disturbing. I do not, for one moment, want to suggest that the children and adults in our neighborhood school buildings should not be safe—of course they should. But the degree of steps we now need to take to keep schools safe is unfortunate, to say the least.
The task of providing safe and secure environments in which our children can learn is both complicated and far-reaching. There are no easy answers, and opinions vary as widely as the number of ways to solve the issue. It is important to say that it is not solely the responsibility of the school system. A safe school environment is created through a coordinated network of community resources working together to ensure long-term viability for the community. After all, the development of safe and secure schools is directly built upon a foundation of safe and secure communities.
At the recent Texas Association of School Business Officials (TASBO) Annual Conference in Fort Worth, Texas, I led a session on Safe & Secure Schools, Not Bunkers, where I discussed how the psychology of space, combined with elements of campus design, contributes to safer schools. Here are the top three takeaways from this session:
1. School and school district budgets provide an immense challenge for educational systems as costs rise and unfunded mandates continue to grow. This foundational issue impacts every aspect of a school facility, and safety and security systems are no exception. If individual schools and entire school districts do not consider holistic solutions for the development of a community-driven security plan that analyzes numerous operational practices, funding for this initiatives will be viewed over and above basic budgets, susceptible to elimination over time. As a core mission of every school system, keeping staff and students safe while at school, we simply cannot allow it to fall outside the core funding strategies.
2. School facilities continue to grow in their role as community hubs and gathering places. Each of these community assets belong to both the school district and also the community in and around each school. As such, everyone—from district employees to neighbors, parents, and community partners—plays an important role in the development of a specific school safety and security plan, as well as the multi-faceted implementation of that plan. The collective power of an entire community unifying around safety is the most powerful tool we have to prevent another school tragedy.
3. As education continues to evolve, to better prepare each and every student for our ever-changing world, interior transparency plays an important role in the design of modern educational facilities. The ability of students to freely move to do their work while adult supervision is maintained is equally important to the personal connections that can be made between adults and children when visual openness is present. This critical facility attribute both directly and indirectly contributes to safe and secure schools.
I’ve spent the majority of my career designing educational facilities, and I’ve personally witnessed the evolution of school facilities from industrial-aged lecture halls to modern day learning labs. Now more than ever, I feel the responsibility to integrate multi-dimensional safety and security measures into the design conversation regarding effective and impactful learning solutions.