State officials announced a new safe schools initiative during a news conference at Greenbrier High School on Wednesday.
The announcement came during America’s Safe Schools Week.
Co-sponsored by the Arkansas Safe Schools Association, the Arkansas Attorney General’s Office, the Arkansas Department of Education, the Arkansas Department of Human Services and the Criminal Justice Institute, the Arkansas Center for School Safety will assist educators, leaders and law enforcement professionals across the state to meet the safety needs of children in public schools.
"The Criminal Justice Institute Safe Schools Program will form the foundation of the center," CJI Director Cheryl May said. "With the support of the Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Education, we will be able to expand the programs that we provide."
May said CJI has been engaged since the early 2000s in initiatives that help to reduce violence in schools and, in 2009, began to offer those school safety programs to specific professionals across the state, training more than 2,500 each year.
"Prevention of violence and crime in our schools in our top priority," she said.
Having trained 95 percent of the more than 300 SROs (School Resource Officers) in 238 school districts who are trained to be mentors, informal counselors, teachers, enforcers and more, can be effective at reducing and preventing crime and violence in the schools, May said.
She said hopefully the new center will allow the youth across Arkansas to focus on thinking about what they want to be when they grow up and staff to focus on making sure the kids’s primary education is taken care of, working to limit those amount of external issues that might obstruct that.
"The more we can make those environments [safe] and enhance those environments, the better it’ll be for all of them," May said.
Commissioner of Education Johnny Key said the vision at the Department of Education is to transform Arkansas to lead the nation in student-focused education. He said the way it will do that is to provide leadership, support and service to schools, districts and communities so every student graduates prepared for college, their careers and community engagement.
He said attending a safe school is an important part of that.
"Being on campus in a place where you feel comfortable, where your parents feel comfortable … sending you every day knowing that they don’t have to worry about you," Key said.
Seeing the devastating events occur in schools across the nation, he said, is what drives state professionals to double their efforts and strive to provide safe areas for the children of Arkansas.
"Transforming our communities, transforming Arkansas, means creating these partnerships that you see before you today," Key said.
He said he was excited that the center represented the next step in that process, and that bringing together more partners and more resources to schools, administrators, educators, SROS and more is crucial.
Sen. Missy Ervin also spoke at the news conference.
She said the students in the audience is what led her to get involved in the partnership with May and others.
"Your faces," Ervin said talking to the students. "You are the ones who are most important."
Another reason she jumped on board was the amount of teachers who have contacted her telling her about the many questions students have asked them about what to do in an active shooter situation and the fact that they didn’t know the answer.
Ervin said teachers need to know and need training to be able to do exactly what they need to in case a situation does arise.
She said by getting involved she was able to connect people who had questions, the teachers, with people who had the answers, CJI.
Overall, she said the ultimate goal throughout the whole process is to make sure they are providing a safe learning environment for students to make sure they can learn without fear.
To learn more about Arkansas Safe Schools or 2017 Safe Schools Classes, visit www.arsafeschols.com.