GRPS public safety director talks student well-being, possible improvements

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- Highlighting prevention when a tragedy like the one in Parkland happens includes planning. For the public safety director of West Michigan's largest school district, there is always work to be done.

Coincidentally, Larry Johnson, public safety director of Grand Rapids Public Schools, is currently in Mississippi at a national school safety conference. Johnson says once they heard about what happened in Parkland, the agenda changed, and now they're focusing on this latest tragedy.

"We thought as school safety professionals that we had gained some headway over the last few years after Columbine, but after places like Sandy Hook and now Parkland, it seems like a national issue that just won't go away," said Johnson.

Johnson is also Chairman of the National Association of School Safety and Law Enforcement officials.

"One of my jobs with the national organization is to evaluate and look at new security technology," said Johnson. "In Grand Rapids, we're sitting on a $10 million security grant to look at just that: the redesign of entryways and technology. But I don't believe that technology is always the answer."

He says physical security isn't the only solution; it's also about focused interest and the well-being of students.

"There's a lot of work to be done around the mental health aspects of working with young people in schools," said Johnson. "You look for loners, you look for kids who don't seem to be connecting with other people inside of the district, but you also look at what's going on in your community."

Johnson is in Grand Rapids Public Schools every day, making connections with students that maybe need a little more attention.

"We have to be able to identify some of the issues that young people struggle with in the K-12 arena and being able to provide the resources to help with the families and those young people overcome some of the issues that confront them," said Johnson.

Johnson says it goes beyond just seeing something wrong and saying something.

"I say, 'See something, say something, do something'," said Johnson. "When you see it, you're going to talk about it, and there has to be some action."

Johnson says parents are an important part of prevention, because kids are only at school for a short period of the day and are out in the community and at home for much more of it. He says parents need to talk to their kids, keep tabs on their stuff, monitor their social media pages and be involved in their lives so they can see if and when their kids are struggling.

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