Metro Schools head of security focuses on student safety every single day

Back to School

In May of 2018, our country was nearing a pace of one school shooting every week.

Locally, districts and their security teams work constantly with police and sheriff’s offices. They study past shootings and tirelessly share security strategy to prevent the next one. Much of this is learning from past school shootings and being willing to acknowledge when something was not done right.  

But everything changes when it hits home.   

In January, two students were killed and 18 more were injured during a shooting at Marshall County High School, in Kentucky.  Districts in Kentucky and Tennessee must be proactive now, to protect students and learn every possible lesson to avoid a worst-case scenario.   

Jimmy Wheeler is the head of security at Metro-Nashville Public Schools.   

“It’s time for that to stop,” he said.  

Wheeler took on the role shortly after the Sandy Hook mass shooting, five and half years ago. Today, he’s in charge of securing 100,000 people every day, across 155 Metro locations. That involves active aggression training courses with teachers and administrators. Part of that process is also understanding the mistakes of others and watching past shootings.   

“The big thing is, people in the safety and security school have gotten really good at saying this is what we could have done better,” explained Wheeler. “That’s a hard thing to say when you’re employed to stop such things.”  

Wheeler has learned the first line of defense is not even at school, it could be at home or online.   

“You won’t find one shooting, one school shooting in this nation that someone outside the school didn’t have information they should have passed on,” he said. “You won’t find it.”  

Metro doesn’t go this route, but some districts are applying the sound of gunfire to active shooter training.  It’s loud, it’s frightening and there’s nothing like it. It’s used to prepare students for the reality of the situation.  

School security has come a long way. From 1999, the year of Columbine, to 2015, the percentage of students who said doors were locked during the school day, rose from 38 to 78 percent.  

According to the National Association of School Resource Officers, the year of the massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, just 19 percent of schools said they used security cameras to monitor buildings. By the 2013-14 school year, 75 percent had the devices up and running.  

But there’s still room for improvement. In 2014, 88 percent of public schools had a written plan to deal with a mass shooting.  

But by 2017, only 70 percent of schools had drilled students on their plan, based on a report on school safety by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics.  

Today’s strategies must go beyond what’s obvious, they must evolve. Wheeler recently incorporated a training technique from a district in Florida.   

“We want children to walk into school and know they’re safe, we want parents to know they’re safe – that we’re doing everything we can,” said Wheeler.   

To stay ahead of the threat, he’s learned it’s a way of life with security on the mind 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It’s vital to assure student safety. 

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