RALEIGH — At an event held in Raleigh on March 17, the Center for Safer Schools celebrated its 10th anniversary. The event also kicked off a 10-month-long series of anniversary events which will be detailed on the center’s social media platforms.
Various officials with the center gave remarks, including the center’s executive director, Karen Fairley, House K-12 Education Committee chair Rep. John Torbett (R-Gaston), former statehouse Rep. Jamie Boles, N.C. Superintendent Catherine Truitt and Deputy Superintendent Dr. Jerry Oates. N.C. Department of Public Safety Secretary Eddie Buffaloe was also in attendance.
The various speakers recognized past and current accomplishments and activities of the center.
The Center for Safer Schools (CFSS) was formed through an executive order by former Gov. Pat McCrory in March 2013 as a response to the tragedy that occurred months before on Dec. 12 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. The CFSS was originally housed under the N.C. Department of Public Safety but was later moved under the Department of Public Instruction.
The purpose of CFSS is to make schools in the state safer by offering training, resources and information to districts. CFSS staff focus on school climate, school discipline and emergency preparedness concerns for the state’s K-12 schools.
Torbett and Boles both spoke about the importance of mental health and staff training in making schools safer.
“If we can catch them now, we have done a great thing for society,” Torbett said of identifying kids who may be struggling.
Boles praised the training work being done at the temporary training center established in Moore County and the work that will be done at a permanent facility in Montgomery County set to open in late 2024. The facilities allow for realistic emergency and active shooter drills to be conducted.
“We have one goal: protect our children,” said Boles.
In her remarks, Fairley highlighted the history and work of the CFSS. She and her husband already have eight daughters, but they immediately gained 1.5 million children when she took up her leadership role at the CFSS in 2021.
“I would have to focus on these children as if they were my own,” Fairley said.
Fairley thanked Torbett, Boles and the rest of the General Assembly for their long and continued support of the CFSS.
“I saw the work come alive. I saw how passionate they were about school safety,” Fairley said about working with lawmakers. “They would listen. It was about what they could do for our children.”
Fairley also said the CFSS plans to add more than a dozen new staff members that will include one school safety specialist in all eight educational regions of the state. Major initiatives and projects the CFSS will include EKG2, SHINE/SEED, Mental Health First Aid and the Rave Panic Alarm.
Truitt said when she took office in 2021, she saw the CFSS as a way to make “positive change” regarding school safety.
“We have too many superintendents and principals with sleepless nights,” Truitt said, adding that the work of the CFSS is important.
“Parents are their children’s first teachers and foundation for success in school and life,” said Truitt of the importance of keeping parents engaged in school safety matters.
Truitt said the CFSS is planning to add more parental engagement programs that will complement the Parent Advisory Commission she instituted in June 2022.
Winners of the CFSS’ Student Engagement Program Contest were also announced. Students participating submitted how they see school safety through posters, videos and poems.
1st place (tie): Noah Kastner, ninth grade, Clover Garden School, Alamance County (poem); and Neil Patel, eighth grade, Vance Charter School, Vance County (short story)
2nd place: Anna Lloyd, seventh grade, Vance Charter School, Vance County (poster)
3rd place: Liliana Hernandez-Marcelino, fourth grade, Hawk Eye Elementary School, Hoke County (poster)
The entire third-grade class at J.W. McLauchlin Elementary School, as well as the fourth- and fifth-graders of the Don Sneed Elementary School Beta Club, were also recognized for their impressive video entries. Both of the schools are located in Hoke County.