PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) – As Richneck Elementary School in Newport News prepares to reopen, a Texas educational leadership professor, who trains other educators on topics like school safety, shares useful best practices that could protect students in the Commonwealth.
Dr. Lawrence Scott is an Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership at Texas A&M San Antonio. He worked in local schools for 17 years as a teacher, counselor, administrator and in many other roles.
Now, he trains principals and superintendents across the state of Texas on areas like school community relations, curriculum development and school safety.
Scott says he was completely shocked after hearing the news of what happened at Richneck Elementary earlier this month. A 6-year-old student is accused of shooting his first grade teacher, Abby Zwerner. He hopes that by sharing what procedures and tools have worked in Texas, it’ll help school districts in Virginia.
“I wanted to have this interstate conversation because, you know, our communities are at stake. And we need to heal, not just as a nation, but we need to heal in our communities,” he said.
10 On Your Side previously spoke to a Richneck Elementary School parent who said the January 6 shooting could have been prevented. The parent said he has previously talked to school staff members about safety concerns prior to Friday’s shooting.
The key to protecting students, says Scott, lies in three areas: prevention, intervention and access to resources.
“There’s always signs. That’s the prevention side. I want to focus on the prevention,” said Scott.
Newport News Superintendent Dr. George Parker previously revealed there was a report that the boy might have had a weapon on him when he got to school Friday morning.
Dr. Scott says the knowledge of a potential threat could’ve been handled differently to prevent the shooting.
“Once we have imminent danger, a threat or imminent danger, a school resource officer should’ve been the first line of contact,” said Scott. “That officer would’ve joined the administrator to do the search and, additionally, contacted the parent and say, ‘Is there a gun missing?'”
The implementation of mentorship programs, led by community members, has proved to be a major help in schools.
“When you have mentorship, even for Black boys, the mentorship expands in every aspect,” he said. “Their cognitive abilities, their social-emotional learning, their social-psycho educational status, it does so much for them. And again, it’s one of those things where they feel like they can achieve it because they can see it.”
Another useful tool, giving teachers radios to communicate quicker with administrators in times of crisis.
“By the time I get to your classroom, five minutes have elapsed. Or three minutes or two minutes have elapsed. We don’t have that time,” said Scott. “This is critical. So having every teacher have a radio I think could help.”
Scott also says clear backpacks, no lockers, virtual textbooks, and student check-ins could be other useful preventative tactics. Still, he says decisions need to be made meeting the individual needs of each district and school.
“You’re different, so continue using your differences and then let’s build on our commonalities,” he said. “Let’s continue working with the community. Let’s continue to be preemptive. And focus on prevention and again, building that communication with all stakeholders. That’s going to be the key.”
Whatever decisions are made, he says the community needs to be at the table to participate.