Sponsored by: St. Clair County Community College

Written by Audrey Sochor

   Superintendents, social workers, school resource officers and mental health professionals gathered on June 27 to discuss an unfortunate issue facing the nation: how to prevent school shootings and other acts of violence.

   Courtenay McCarthy, school psychologist for Salem-Keizer Public Schools in Oregon, shared expertise on her school’s student threat assessment, which has been in use for 19 years.

   “Student threat assessment is a process designed to prevent actions of targeted violence in schools,” McCarthy said. “So that is a kind of violence when someone pre-selects the people that they want to harm, plans and prepares to carry that out. So we’re talking about how to design a system to identify those threats and manage them.”

   The school administers and their community partners teamed up for a two-day presentation with McCarthy, but training will be ongoing. “I’m helping those teams determine how to work together, to function as a team, to identify, assess and manage concerning situations,” McCarthy said.    

   One of those team members is Jeff Friedland, director of Homeland Security and Emergency Management for St. Clair County. He said while the county knows what to do in the aftermath of a violent school event, it’s time to get a better preventative process in place.

   “We’ve been very active in the response side, at getting emergency services trained and getting equipment, so if an event does occur they can minimize the damage,” Friedland said. “But in most cases the damage is done prior to emergency services getting there.”

   For him, student threat assessments were the next step to keeping kids on the right track. It also gave his office and the schools a chance to create a cohesive system for all the county districts.

   “At the end of the day if there’s an event we’re all in it together, so preventing it keeps us from all being in it together,” Friedland.

   Kenneth Nicholl, superintendent of Yale Public Schools, said the county already has a close knit group of superintendents and that this training allows them to reflect on their current system and the improvements that can be made. His fellow superintendents agree.

   “As superintendents we meet monthly, so we have a pretty good idea who we are, we communicate very well,” said Jeff Terpenning, superintendent of Capac Community Schools. “But it’s nice to see everybody else and get their input.

   “As you know we have issues around the country that produce threats,” Terpenning added. “How we handle those and what we do with those is very important. Our communities need to know that we have a plan in place – which we really have a plan in place – but this is probably a more enhanced plan.”