Harford superintendent candidates stress planning, preparation, collaboration in school safety protocols

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In their interactions with the local community, the two finalists to become Harford County Public Schools’ next superintenent have emphasized the need for extensive preparation, training and collaboration to ensure schools are safe.

Concerns about school security came to the fore again late week, not long after the two Harford superintendent candidates visited the county, when eight students and two teachers were shot to death and 13 others were wounded at a Texas high school, allegedly by a 17-year-old student who is in custody and facing charges for the murders.

Harford superintendent candidates David Ring jr., a former president of the Institute of Notre Dame private school in Baltimore and former superintendent of the Delmar School District between Maryland and Delaware, and Sean Bulson, a University of North Carolina System official, former superintendent of schools in Wilson County, N.C. and former Montgomery County Public Schools official, talked about their experiences of preparing their school districts for a mass shooting situation during community forums held the week of May 14.

The Harford Board of Education is expected to pick one of the two men to succeed retiring Superintendent Barbara Canavan, with the selection to be made by mid-June, according to board President Joseph Voskuhl. Canavan is set to retire June 30.

The community forums were an opportunity for Ring, on May 15, and Bulson, on May 17, to visit schools and meet with students, staff and the general public. Both candidates received and answered questions about how they will make schools safe

Even before last Friday’s shootings at Santa Fe High School in Santa Fe Texas, the school shootings earlier this year in Parkland Florida and Great Mills in St. Mary’s County had made school security and student safety a hot top in many communities, with Harford County being no exception.

Questions about the safety of Harford schools and what can be done to make them safer have been debated in several local public forums this spring, including with the two superintendent finalists when the visited the county last week.

No armed teachers

Both Ring and Bulson said they do not support allowing teachers to carry firearms in school, but each said he is experienced in security planning from his prior employment.

Bulson and Ring both cited the deadly 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., as an impetus to revamp safety and security planning. Twenty-six people, the majority of them children, died in the Newtown shooting.

“My greatest regret was this a responsive thing,” brought on by tragedy, Bulson said during his forum May 17.

He said Wilson County school officials had to “completely wipe and start fresh,” which meant assembling a Safety Impact Team and seeking assistance from local law enforcement, emergency management, fire and EMS, even security from the local community college.

“I wanted to find the best talent to go out now and help me assess what I need to know,” Bulson said.

He said an emergency management team was established in each school, and county emergency management officials developed training scenarios for those teams using tabletop excercises.

“We wanted to make sure that the training and the practice and the planning for security was not just a plan that went on a shelf, but it was something that people lived,” Bulson said.

Not taken lightly

Ring said he “never took school safety lightly,” and he observed safety procedures when he visited three schools in Harford County on May 15, such as how visitors were admitted to the building and whether exterior doors remained closed.

If hired as Harford’s superintendent, “I would have the responsibility of making sure that we have done everything in our power to provide training to our schools, our school personnel, our teachers and our children,” he said during his Tuesday evening forum.

Ring said the community in Newtown was very similar to Delmar where he was superintendent. The Delmar district encompasses schools on either side of the Maryland-Delaware line on the Eastern Shore.

He drew upon strong relationships with the police and community in Delmar when developing trainings for school shootings in 2013, which included simulations of shootings in the buildings. He said he “demanded” every parent come to a training that summer, and he estimated about 98 percent participation.

“I wanted parents to understand what exactly we were doing, why we were doing it,” Ring said.

He said effective communication was critical in making the training succesful.

“Something like that could never be done without making sure parents and families are well aware how far you’re taking that training,” Ring said.

He said he had “a very established relationship” with Delmar’s police chief — that agency provides school resource officers — Ring made sure he and police officials “had an ongoing level of communication, and if we had specific needs or concerns they were well aware of it.”

“School safety is not something I would take for granted, and there’s always going to be room for improvement,” he said.

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