he fabled three R’s of education—“readin’, ’ritin’,
and ’rithmetic”—harken back to a school life of
days gone by. For local public education leaders
concerned with campus safety in today’s world,
attention must be paid to the three C’s: collaboration, coordination, and communication.
This was the message in session after session September
13 in Round Rock at the TASB Risk Management Fund’s powerful event, Partnering for Safe Schools: A Safety and Security
An ensemble of school security experts, law enforcement
and first responder personnel, legal and mental health professionals, school design specialists, and representatives from state
agencies delivered a daylong symposium on school safety and
security, with many messages echoing a similar theme—
cooperation among school and community entities is essential.
The Simple Things
Collaboration between the school district and community
resources was lacking on December 14, 2012, in Newton,
Connecticut, said speaker Alissa Parker, mother of one of 20
children who died that day in the Sandy Hook Elementary
School shooting. This was the deadliest mass-shooting incident
ever at a US high school or grade school—the fourth-deadliest
mass shooting event in US history.
“Make no mistake, the only person to blame for this inci-
dent was the perpetrator,” Parker said. “But there were things
we could have done better, in hindsight.”
Parker described the scene on the Sandy Hook Elementary
School campus following the incident as chaos. She had to
park blocks away from the school that day because of the jam
of responders, media vehicles, parents, and onlookers.
“Twenty-six different law enforcement agencies and first
responders were at the school. As one local official said, ‘We
were grateful for so many responders because we were unable
to respond adequately with our resources, but in hindsight we
wish what we would have done is have a task force in place
ahead of time, so we could act and not react.”
Parker, whose oldest daughter, Emilie, was killed in the
shooting, partnered with fellow Sandy Hook Elementary parent
Michele Gay, mother of victim Josephine Grace Gay, to cofound
Safe and Sound Schools, a nonprofit organization dedicated to
supporting school crisis prevention, response, and recovery.
The group’s services include workshops and keynotes, school
safety toolkits, youth council opportunities, and a resource
library, including free downloadable printouts for teachers,
administrators, and students.
“Our first responders were trained,” Parker said. “They
knew what to do, but we had never invited them to the table.
We missed collaboration—not only with first responders but
also with parents.”
One of the lessons Parker and Gay impart in their presen-
tations across the country is for district and campus personnel
to meet with community entities to cohesively plan assessment,
“Students are the missing factor in preventing these types
of incidents. They often know something is going on before
anyone else. We need to give them a seat at the table when it
comes to school safety and prevention.”
Parker noted that basic safety measures could have made a
difference that day.
“Simple measures can save lives. The fact that we didn’t have
a million-dollar security system in place in the school didn’t keep
me up at night. What kept me up at night was that we didn’t do
the simple things—things as simple as locking a door.”
The teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary were unable to lock
their classroom doors from the inside when the perpetrator en-
tered the school. Parker added that in her daughter Emilie’s class,
the substitute teacher in charge of the class that day had not been
trained in emergency preparedness. Additionally, teachers hadn’t
been trained to consider alternative solutions, such as jamming a
bookshelf against the classroom door to impede access.
“The time of the crisis is not the time for creative think-
ing,” Parker said. “We default to our level of training and
The community and the school ultimately fell victim to a
false sense of security, she added.
“A false sense of security—the ‘not here’ mentality—was
our downfall. School safety is not a ‘one and done’ thing. It’s a
process. It’s a complicated process.”
Collaboration is also essential in the aftermath, Parker
said. Cooperation with area mental health agencies, faith-
based groups, victim resources, and other trained professionals
should be established before an incident occurs.
Safe and Sound Schools Website cofounder Alissa Parker, mother
of one of 20 children killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School
shooting in Newton, Connecticut, in 2012, shares a personal
perspective on the school’s response and recovery efforts.