WEST LIBERTY – Since 1999, more than 300,000 students, hundreds of educators and administrators have experienced gun violence in schools according to a database compiled by The Washington Post. Following these tragic events, educators and administrators are forced to return to the place of trauma to cope and lead children who are healing in different ways. The alarming statistics and the trial-and-error approach to leading a community through recovery, called for school administrators, teachers, victims and advocates, state and local law enforcement agencies, Department of Homeland Security, and mental health professionals across the nation to work together to create proactive strategies leveraging for greater mental health supports in school, the presence of resource officers, safety features, and actions.
West Liberty-Salem principals Greg Johnson, high school, and Andy McGill, middle school, and Superintendent Kraig Hissong are among the nation’s leading educators spearheading the call for action. In 2019, the Principal Recovery Network (PRN) was developed to provide schools with guidance on navigating the aftermath of gun violence and tragedy. Johnson and McGill were among a group of principals who founded the organization, its purpose, and the published guide detailing their shared experiences and recovery plan.
Since that time, Johnson, Hissong, and McGill have traveled Ohio and throughout the United States working with school safety stakeholders to develop strategies that support schools in developing school safety best practices based on the knowledge they have gained through working with groups like the PRN.
On April 19, Johnson, McGill, Hissong, Crystal Johnson, 4th grade teacher and wife of Principal Johnson, Logan Cole, victim, and Addalyn Cole, student, joined leaders from across the United States to deliver the 2023 School Safety Symposium: Active Shooter Awareness. The conference was held in California. Logan Cole, Greg Johnson, McGill and Hissong were the keynote speakers sharing their story and what happened in the school and community before, during, and after the shooting. Logan Cole, the student injured, shared his experience during the shooting and recovery, and school administrators shared what they have learned and are still learning today.
Breakout sessions offered leaders the opportunity to speak personally about their role in the days following Jan. 20, 2017. Hissong identified his role as a school leader in community response. He explained how the district developed a communication plan that shared pertinent information, while also protecting the privacy of those directly involved, and the steps taken by the West Liberty-Salem Board of Education to improve the safety and security of the district following the event.
Keynote speaker and breakout session presenter Greg Johnson shared his personal experience on the road to recovery and mental health. Regardless of the number of injuries or fatalities, a very large number of individuals are impacted and reactions to trauma vary by a variety of factors. Mr. Johnson shared the steps taken at West Liberty-Salem to help identify both staff and student mental health needs.
McGill introduced and provided an overview of The NASSP Principal Recovery Network Guide. As a founding member of the organization, he shared the guide’s benefits to both school officials and law enforcement as another way to prepare for the possibility of a school shooting or other traumatic event.
While administrators have shared their story, perspective, and experiences since the shooting, this is the first time a West Liberty-Salem teacher presented at the symposium. Many educators, parents, and students are concerned about safety and the impact of safety trainings at the elementary level. Mrs. Crystal Johnson, 4th grade teacher who was teaching during the school shooting, recalled her experience with school safety training both before and after the event. She shared how she and her colleagues executed the training during the school shooting and how that training looks different today. Additionally, Greg and Crystal Johnson’s daughter Addalyn, who was a student at the time of the shooting, and her husband Logan Cole, victim, recounted how living through the traumatic event impacted and continues to impact their families and personal relationships including challenges related to stress, anxiety, and mental health.
Since Jan. 20, 2017, this group of outstanding West Liberty-Salem leaders made it their mission to serve schools across the United States with shared experiences in recovery, while in turn receiving the same support and insight. Learning from collective personal experiences, personal growth from tragedy, and the support of their community, they strive to proactively identify students struggling with mental health issues, school bullying, and adversity, while adopting and delivering the highest quality school safety and emergency preparedness plan for our school, staff, and students.
Info from WL-S