Interview with Dr. Jason Lody, Head of School at Prince William Academy

What does your SAIS 2016 presentation focus on?

We'll of course be looking at the most popular and well-known of school threats - school shootings. That said, if we narrow our sight and focus only on school shootings, we risk becoming less aware of other acts of violence. In addition, we’ll be touching on cyber threats, domestic violence and how that can bleed into school communities, physical plant threats, and school based attacks. Often schools have security breaches like open windows or doors that are ignored because they haven’t yet yielded a negative impact. All it takes is a friendly member of the community holding the door for an unknown person to have a potential threatening situation for the students, staff, or the school building. We are operating in a different climate in the nation and in the world. We have to become a lot less comfortable with these small breaches.
My background is in law enforcement prior to becoming head of school. In the police force, one thing that sets you up for being injured is being too comfortable in a situation. When you become complacent, you become less attuned to potential threats. Your response time is lessened in those cases because you’re reactive to a threat, rather than proactive with preparation.

Why is safety an important topic to talk about at this conference?

Safety is a timely topic for any conference. I recently spoke about this in Nashville as well. Private schools often think they are immune to safety issues, but I like to remind them to think of the idea of school violence as “when”, not an “if”. There is always going to be someone who is a victim of cyber bullying. There will always be disgruntled employees. There will always be a parent without visitation rights. All of these things are constant potential threats, and it’s up to us as administrators and faculty to be prepared. 

I see effort being made, but there are not enough resources going towards safety plans at most schools. Often, emergency plans are static pages in a binder that do not get updated as populations shift and buildings develop. One school that I spoke to listed evacuation spots in their plan that no longer existed because the building had been renovated. When there is development or when your school population grows, your emergency plan needs to reflect that. 

What are some strategies you would suggest for keeping your school community safe?

I have a few strategies that I would suggest:

  • Campus walks: I recommend bringing in an outside set of eyes to do a campus walk. This consists of a thorough site visit to check for inadequacies in the emergency plan, and plant deficiencies that might facilitate access by people with negative motivation.
  • Live emergency drills: I encourage schools to do real lock-down and evacuation drills with law enforcement on the scene. When there are lights and sirens, it feels scary. It is not routine. It raises the level of intensity and adrenaline, which can impede reaction time in a real situation. I recommend that schools don't run these drills in a sterile environment. You want everyone to be prepared and experienced with what it’s actually like.
  • Develop a plan with the community: When schools develop emergency plans, I recommend bringing everyone to the table. Invite law enforcement, local businesses, and community leaders who have a vested interest in keeping community safe. They may also have things that you need to execute your eventual plan. It’s important not to create an emergency plan in a closed door office. 

Because we’ve done these things, there is an increased level of confidence in the emergency plan at my school. When everyone knows what the plan is and knows what’s expected of them, you have a safer school. When the plan was made with the help of fully informed and collaborative people coming together, then you have a safer community. 

What would you say to schools that are hesitant to talk to their students about school shootings and other threats?

Avoiding the subject of school threats with students is nonsense. Approaching the subject delicately is equally nonsensical, because they are bombarded with information about these threats by the media. We live in a society that is far different than the 20th century. Threats exist in all environments. It has become part of our norm. The more we work to ignore it, the more susceptible we are to threats because we will not be prepared. We don’t need our communities to be hypersensitive, but we do need to stay alert. 
I’ve found that not talking about threats with students actually builds fear. If we have a plan in place, then the students can feel confident knowing that they are going to be ready and alert. When that lockdown notice and the announcement comes, they will know what’s expected of them and of the staff.  

Dr. Jason Lody

Dr. Jason Lody came to PWA with decades of experience in education, having served as a middle school math and science teacher, an elementary self-contained teacher for grades 4 and 5, assistant principal, principal, and a central office leader in public and private schools.  Additionally, Dr. Lody has worked as an executive director of an educational non-profit in Washington, DC as well as a founding leader for two charter schools.  In 2004 he took what he calls a “radical sabbatical” and joined the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington, DC.  In these years, he was able to develop skills that made me a more effective leader and educator, and experienced situations that deepened his understanding about the importance of educating the whole child.  Most recently Dr. Lody served as the Vice President of School Development for an educational management company, overseeing school transformation for close to forty schools around the United States.