Members of Deer Lakes School District’s leadership team recently joined administrators from throughout the region in a School Threat Assessment Training at South Fayette Township High School.
The workshop, which is based on the Virginia Student Threat Assessment Guidelines, was led by the program’s architect, Dr. Dewey G. Cornell, a forensic clinical psychologist specializing in violent offenders at the University of Virginia. Dr. Cornell’s program, which has been widely adopted by schools all over the country and help teachers and administrators assess and address lower-level threats like bullying and teasing before they escalate to more dangerous levels. In fact, Dr. Cornell’s program is the only evidence-based training in the United States with controlled studies.
Dr. Cornell, whose expertise in threat assessment has led him to work with the Secret Service and the FBI, has been featured on the “PBS News Hour,” The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Vanity Fair and others, participated in the daylong dialogue with area school officials on measures they could take to make their schools as safe as possible.
According to Dr. Cornell, there is a gross imbalance in the resources districts allot to school security versus violence prevention. “School security is obviously very important for all kinds of reasons, but prevention has to start before there is a gunman at your door,” he said.
The program features several key tenets including: differentiating between substantive and transient threats as well as making the distinction between those who make threats and those who pose a threat. “Our mental health assessments are not designed to predict violence, but to find ways to prevent violence,” said Dr. Cornell.
According to Deer Lakes superintendent, Dr. Janell Logue-Belden, who was one of 11 district employees in attendance, along with West Deer Township police officer, Mike Shurina, today’s training was an extraordinary experience. “Today’s workshop was among the best trainings I have ever attended,” she said. “This training has armed our staff with proven research-based strategies to assess threats and hopefully to help prevent them.”
School district mental health liaison, Karen Radick was also in attendance and came away equally impressed. “This was an extraordinary opportunity for our entire school district to learn from one of the foremost experts in the world about such an important issue: school violence and how to mitigate it,” she said. “I would agree with Dr. Logue Belden, this was definitely among the best trainings – if not the best training – I have ever attended. I think our entire community will benefit from it.”
Some of the other schools whose adminstrators attended today’s symposium included South Fayette, Avonworth, Norwin and Washington school districts.