Joe McKenna became the Director of Safety and Security at the Comal Independent School District in August of 2018 after receiving an undergraduate and Masters degree as well as PhD in criminal justice. He worked as a researcher and associate director at the Texas School Safety Center at Texas State University where he was able to assist administrators, trainers, and legislators “to create safer schools and healthier learning environments.”
Comal ISD is a diverse and quickly growing district that sits between Austin and San Antonio with enrollment increasing by 900 to 1,000 students annually. The district is spread out with 3 high schools of choice, 7 middle schools, and 18 elementary schools allowing for the possibility of a 40 to 50 minute drive from Joe’s office to a school.
Joe McKenna emphasizes that while an overall safety strategy is essential, it is equally essential to be able to implement the strategy to specific conditions. “School safety is a combination of strategy and implementation. It is not simply the adoption of a set of procedures or a software platform. Seeing the big picture is a matter of bringing everyone to the table and putting together all the pieces in terms of how we would actually execute the strategy.
We need to look at our facilities. We need to work with our counselors and support staff to address mental health issues. We need to collaborate with law enforcement and emergency responders, and we need to train our administrators on how to run drills and implement safety and security protocols.”
When Joe McKenna got to the district, they were already implementing technology into their safety and security operations in the form of Google docs, online file sharing services, and internal servers. However, Texas law required over 500 emergency drills across the campus annually, each one requiring detailed statistics for further analysis. And while the district’s current data collection through Google Docs allowed the district to sort data by date, it did not provide the quality of data that McKenna needed in order to better secure his schools.
A unique challenge that Comal ISD faces is that it is spread across 5 counties which means about 20 emergency response agencies are a part of the district between fire, EMS, and police. “Getting the right information to the right people as needed requires a lot of coordination. Thom showed us that Emergency Management softwared could fill in the gaps in our safety and security protocols. He didn’t promise to do the work for us. Instead, he offered a solution that could improve the way we handled everything.”
For McKenna, the software provides a better mechanism for reporting and resolving issues that they experienced during drills. It also improves student accountability with up-to-date student lists through daily syncs with the student information system. Additionally, it allows for improvement in data collection. He noted, “The software streamlines and standardizes the data entry and retrieval process. Principals can enter information about the duration of a drill, the number of students and teachers involved, the participation of law enforcement and emergency response personnel, and any other relevant factors.
The entire district now uses the same standardized forms to submit their results. I can then go into the back-end, run some simple reports, and start to get a better view of everything that’s going on. I can analyze trends and see what we’re doing right, and what needs improvement. I can break down the information according to location, type of school, and the size of the student population.”
One of Joe McKenna’s goals is to make the district as revered for school safety as it has been for academic standards, athletics, and fine arts, and it is clear that his hard work and expertise is helping do just that.