WILSON COUNTY, Tenn. (WKRN) – School safety is serious business for parents, children, administrators and teachers. But few schools are as dedicated to the safety of its students as Wilson County.
As one of the fastest growing school systems in the state, they’re stepping up their game to keep kids safe with a safety plan that’s unlike any other in Tennessee.
School safety can mean a few different things – technical, man-made or natural threats. That’s the sole job of Stephen Spencer, Director of Safety and Emergency Management for Wilson County Schools, who says he is proud to be paranoid.
“That’s what I tell everybody, I’m paranoid so you don’t have to be,” he said.
After all, paranoia is an important part of his job.
“You have to think of what are the threats, how would someone implement that threat and then how would you respond to that threat,” explained Spencer.
Spencer joined Wilson County Schools from Wilson County Emergency Management a few years ago.
It’s unusual for a school to have a single position dedicated to just safety. In fact, Spencer is the first and only certified-emergency manager in this role.
In a district like Wilson County, it’s necessary.
“We have kids coming into our district faster than we can build buildings to put them in,” Spencer said.
Spencer is responsible for the safety of about 19,000 students and 2,500 adults in 21 different schools.
He has plans to keep them safe in almost every instance you could think of. He then goes over the plans with all school administrators at a summer seminar.
“We wrote an all comprehensive plan that all the schools can follow. We built school crisis teams and we gave individuals with schools roles and responsibilities,” Spencer said.
From threats like a shooter to loss of power or water, even a tornado, the teachers and administrators become the students, learning everything they can.
“I’ve been in multiple districts throughout my training – this is an extremely intense training,” said Leigh Anne Rainey, principal of Mt. Juliet Middle School.
“It’s a reality, and unfortunately it’s reality everywhere today,” Rainey said of the need to prepare for a threat like a shooter.
The No. 1 threat at Wilson County Schools, though, is severe weather.
That’s why one of the very first things Spencer did was to get Wilson County Schools severe weather-certified by the National Weather Service. It’s the first school system with that title in the state.
After the seminar, administrators have all the knowledge, but are they ready to implement it?
That’s when practice makes perfect.
“Most of the time when people get hit with a crisis situation off the bat, and you have never been in a situation, you don’t know how you are going to respond especially when children are involved,” Rainey said. “We do regular fire drills and they will pull a kid as we are walking by so the teachers recognize they are missing a student.”
At the end of the day, everyone with Wilson County schools will tell you, paranoia is paramount.
“If their basic needs are not taken care of you can forget any academic achievement. Spencer is paranoid and that is wonderful, because I would not want one that was lax about what he does.”
Spencer also said the school system works directly with police, fire and EMS during their drills and planning sessions.