In this episode, host Joel Gagne speaks with Dr. Jim Lloyd, Superintendent of Olmsted Falls School District outside Cleveland, about keeping students safe and preventing school shootings.

Dr. Lloyd first talks about his passion for public schools, calling them a very important service and facet of American democracy.

Himself a product of public schools, Dr. Lloyd says his education had a powerful influence over his life and prepared him for his first job as a school psychologist. Being a psychologist gave him the people skills to ultimately serve as a superintendent.

Unfortunately, school safety has been top of mind lately for superintendents around the country.

Dr. Lloyd recently gave a presentation on the subject to Olmsted Falls stakeholders, just days after the national student walk-out over gun control. Olmsted Falls live-streamed the event and received positive feedback about the honesty and transparency.

“I wanted to give them an understanding of everything that we’ve done and how we’ve evolved as a school district,” Dr. Lloyd says.

Olmsted Falls hired a security firm in 2013 to evaluate the safety of all five district buildings, which house about 4,000 students. As a result of the study, the district made a number of improvements, including enhancing security, putting buzzers and cameras in buildings, hiring school resource officers, numbering rooms and creating lockdown procedures.

“I wanted to let them know that we have evolved with the times,” Dr. Lloyd says. “I wanted to let them know we have a very collaborative relationship with our safety team. I think that’s one of the reasons why we’re successful here.”

Dr. Lloyd acknowledges that all the safety precautions in the world don’t get to the heart of the issue, which is that kids will bring their personal issues to school with them.

“There isn’t a metal detector or a mental detector in the world that could identify the kinds of things that students are walking in with,” he says. “And fair or not, that’s the reality of public school these days. Parents give us the best kids they can and our job to educate them every way possible.”

Dr. Lloyd says the logistics of metal detectors would be difficult, and that they wouldn’t prevent the kind of violence that’s been seen in recent school shootings, in which the shooter begins firing immediately upon entrance. It’s a complex issue that goes beyond just guns, he says.

“I don’t pretend to know all of it but I think I know mental health relatively well, and I think that that’s one area that schools can improve in,” Dr. Lloyd says.

Students need to feel comfortable talking to staff and there should be a mutual respect. For example, Dr. Lloyd says it’s encouraging that kids are coming forward with information about disturbing social media posts.

Hiring is another way to improve the mental health of students and overall safety of schools. Olmsted Falls looks for employees that are able to connect with kids, whether it is teachers, custodians or bus drivers.

Dr. Lloyd closes out the episode by recommending the Tony Wagner books Change Leadership and Most Likely to Succeed.

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