School Safety as a Quality Service Issue

There has been much talk about quality service during the past decade. A careful study of the field of quality service management reveals that in the private sector, many organizations either thrive or cease to exist because of their focus on quality service, or the failure to do so. In local, state and federal government, we rarely see the situation where an organization ceases to exist, but we do see struggling and ineffective organizations, as well as examples of those that are exceptional. And more often than not, when we see the success stories, we find ample evidence of a focus on quality and the basic tenants of quality service management.

The Public Is Not Totally Happy

All of us have seen the surveys more times than we would probably care to. We read the headlines that declare that the American public is not satisfied with our nation's public schools. Dramatic increases in home schooling programs in recent decades may indicate that significant portions of our population are not satisfied with either public or private schools. While the results of such surveys and the meaning of the statistics are subject to differing interpretations, there is much to indicate that fair or not, right or not, our educational systems do not have the level of support and confidence from the public that we would like them to have. In the world of quality service management, this necessitates a deep and honest self-assessment based on the customer's viewpoint.

Closer examination of the results of surveys of students, parents and the general public typically reveal that inadequate school safety is almost always one of the top concerns expressed. Assuming that some feelings relating to school safety may be unfounded, it is still the job of those charged with school safety duties to address not only the actual level of safety, but the perceived level of safety as well.

Safety Is a True Quality Service Issue

Staff of the National Resource Center for Safe Schools use Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs to illustrate the point that until safety and security needs are met, greater things such as self-actualization cannot occur. Put another way, no matter how nice your buildings, no matter how high the test scores and no matter how well the football team does in the playoffs, no school is as good as it should be until it has a truly effective safety strategy. Unless and until safety is truly a main priority in name as well as in deed, the best of schools by other measures fall well short of their potential. During the past several decades, we have seen some of our nation's most violent criminal acts carried out by students at schools with high test scores, in nice neighborhoods and housed in nice facilities.

What Should Be Done?

First and foremost, those in positions of leadership must make school safety a real priority that permeates the organization. School safety is a place where talk is cheap, but actual achievement is not. Next, school leaders must develop a complete intolerance for anyone in the organization who in any way covers up school crime, bullying and other safety concerns. The fact that public and private school administrators have been allowed to remain in key positions after they have been found to have covered up hostage situations, guns recovered from students, sexual assaults on campus and other very serious crimes has done very serious harm to the field of education in this country. When these incidents have come to light, school employees, parents and students lose trust and respect for the individuals involved, their organizations and the field of education itself. This has been enough of a problem around the country that every state and the federal government now have laws to address the reporting of school crime. A basic principal of quality service management is open and meaningful communications with the customer. Sometimes the process of maintaining this dialogue is a painful one. But, in the long term, openness of this nature normally builds trust that more than offsets the short term damage of frankness.

Balancing Act

Obviously, school officials must be concerned with the image and reputation of their schools. No teacher, parent, student, administrator or board member likes to see a local school painted as a dangerous place by the media. And, the media does not always provide fair coverage for school safety incidents. But, unfortunately, there is a difficult-to-discern line between trying to maintain a positive image and the need to openly address school safety problems. When school officials are found in what appears to be an attempt to hide safety issues from the public, the media and the public can be very unforgiving. In these instances, severe damage can be done to the reputation that we wish to protect.

The time to make safety and security a guiding principal in every school in our country is long overdue. For those school districts and private institutions that truly desire to be the best, there is no other option.

MICHAEL S. DORN has been a full-time campus safety practitioner for 23 years. He can be reached at .

About the Author

Michael S. Dorn has helped conduct security assessments for more than 6,000 K-12 schools, keynotes conferences internationally and has published 27 books including Staying Alive – How to Act Fast and Survive Deadly Encounters. He can be reached at