An Interview with School Superintendent — Why Empowering Students and Staff is Critical

As the Guard911 mission continues to grow so does our reach to local schools to protect their number one assets: students, teachers, and staff. Julie Lauck is the superintendent for Valparaiso Community Schools located in Valparaiso, IN and with her background as both a teacher and a police dispatcher being an early adopter of Guard911’s SchoolGuard was a no brainer. Check out our interview with Julie below.

Guard911: How long have you been in the education field?
Julie: I entered as a teacher in 1993. I became a building level administrator in 1997, and a district leader in 2004.

Guard911: Can you tell us a bit about your background?
Julie: I was a police dispatcher for the South Bend Police Department while working on my degree at Indiana University South Bend. I was then hired as an English teacher at Mishawaka High School in 1993. I worked as a teacher until 1997 when I earned my master’s degree in school administration. From there I moved into district administration (first as assistant superintendent, then as superintendent) when I earned my Educational Specialist degree from Ball State in 2004. In 2016, I earned my Doctorate from Ball State University. My dissertation was a qualitative study on averting incidents of school rampage violence.

Guard911: How large are Valparaiso Community Schools — how many students?
Julie: We have 6300 students. We have 8 elementary schools, 2 middle schools, 1 high school, and 1 vocational school.

Guard911: How many Valparaiso Community Schools are utilizing SchoolGuard?
Julie: All schools I mentioned above and the administration building.

Guard911: How did you discover SchoolGuard?
Julie: Sheriff David Reynolds presented SchoolGuard to our County Safe Schools Commission. At that time, Valparaiso was one of the first schools to sign on. As a former dispatcher, and the wife of a retired 30-year veteran of the South Bend Police Department, it did not take any convincing! We were all in from the start.

Guard911: Why do you think adopting a piece of technology like SchoolGuard is important?
Julie: Yes, as a former dispatcher, I fully recognize the importance of response time. In an emergency situation, I want as many law enforcement officers arriving as quickly as possible. When my husband was a police officer in South Bend, he had a take-home squad car. Many times we would be headed to or from somewhere and end up making a nearby call. It was that experience of being a quick back-up that helped me to recognize the importance of SchoolGuard. On-duty or off-duty — makes no difference to me — I just want police on scene as quickly as possible.

Guard911: Why is SchoolGuard a “no brainer” for schools when it comes to potential active shooter incidents?
Julie: In addition to the aforementioned, from my research, I know that averting an incident of school violence is far more difficult than ending one quickly when it does happen. If we empower students and staff to be in charge of their own safety during an event, having police on scene as quickly as possible can help end the violent act with a diminished loss of life. Most shooters have ended the killing spree by taking their own life when they know law enforcement is on the scene. The sooner we have help, the better!

Guard911: Have you or schools in your district had to use SchoolGuard in any capacity? (principal push, etc.) Could you share a bit about that use-case?
Julie: Our teachers have used it a lot with our emotionally disabled students. When a student has been out of control in a room (throwing items, screaming, kicking, etc.) teachers have activated the internal alert and have received help very quickly. Our principals have also used the push when we have had a weather situation or a “lockout” (not lockdown) situation.

Guard911: What other steps has Indiana taken when it comes to school safety?
Julie: In Porter County, we have implemented the One County One Protocol system. All schools in our county now use the same language, same procedures in an emergency. We also have MOUs with the local police and sheriff so that in an emergency, officers have FOB access to our buildings, and can pull our live video to be monitored by law enforcement. We have met several times with representatives, Homeland Security, and the governor’s office to share this protocol. Additionally, our County Safe Schools Commission also conducted a tabletop exercise which included law enforcement, fire departments, school personnel, medical personnel, etc. The Department of Education school safety division now conducts safety audits throughout the state.

Guard911: Have you ever been in a situation within a school or your workplace now where safety has been threatened?
Julie: I have been involved in several situations where we have had very angry parents or patrons and have had to help diffuse the situation. I have also had to deal with weather emergencies.

Guard911: Why are you passionate about school safety?
Julie: I have always been passionate about school safety. As a teacher, I was the one who volunteered to take a radio after school and monitor an area that was considered to be a problem. No one else took on that responsibility until I volunteered to do so. As a school administrator and now as a superintendent, the safety of all students, staff, and visitors falls on my shoulders. I have to know that everyone is as safe as they can possibly be in this crazy world.
My research taught me a lot about the importance of empowering staff and students to take their safety into their own hands in any situation — not just at school, but anywhere. I teach my students and staff that they need to always think about safety, they need to have multiple options available in any situation. We now do scenario drills with students and staff. Instead of the basic required twice a year lockdown drill, we give them a scenario and the teachers and students talk about all the ways in which they might respond in a given situation. Safety has always been important to me. Our Director of Safety and Security is my husband (he was hired in that position before I became superintendent), so we talk school safety 24-7 in our house…and we don’t mind it at all!

Guard911: Do you have any final thoughts?
Julie: SchoolGuard is a valuable tool. We all hope we don’t ever have to use it, but if we do find ourselves in the middle of an act of school violence, we will be darn glad that we have it! The relationship we have with Nate and Tim is one that I really value as a superintendent. We are lucky to have an exceptional relationship with our local law enforcement and with our Sheriff.  Making connections with people dedicated to safety is integral to keeping my students and staff safe. Every district should have SchoolGuard.

If you or someone you know has been a leader for change in the safety of local schools or communities, we want to know about them! Send an email to guard911@gmail.com for a chance to be featured in an upcoming blog post.
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