A new school-owned organization dubbed the Council for School Safety Leadership (CSSL) aims to help pre-K through 12 school governance teams lead through crises with research and experience-based support. CSSL delivers crisis management training and response services to support those in leadership positions who are responsible for the safety of students and staff.
CSSL is the only national organization that focuses specifically on school governance teams who are responsible for and play a critical role in keeping schools safe. Governance teams can include school boards, superintendents, chief executive officers, chief financial officers, directors, school business officials, and legal counsel.
The new nonprofit organization is founded under the umbrella of the Missouri School Boards’ Association (MSBA). For the past 13 years, MSBA has operated the Missouri Center for Education Safety, the nation’s only association-owned school safety resource center. Recognizing the need for a national nonprofit organization to support school governance teams in crisis preparedness and response efforts, MSBA used its expertise and learnings about school safety to form CSSL. The vision for CSSL is to operate as a trusted, unbiased, and nonpartisan centralized hub of crisis response services and resources for school districts and leaders nationwide.
Melissa Randol serves as executive director of CSSL. She has more than 20 years of experience with MSBA as general counsel, deputy executive director, and a state and federal lobbyist. Randol also previously served as a member of Governor Mike Parson’s K-12 Council on COVID-19 and is a current member of the Governor’s School Safety Task Force.
“CSSL was developed to support executive school leaders whose decisions have long term impact for students, educators, and communities,” said Randol. “With the launch of this new organization, school governance teams now have access to a resource that can help them prepare for and lead in times of crises with bias-free, research-based services delivered with years of hard-earned experience.”
School safety expert John McDonald co-founded CSSL with Randol and serves as the organization’s chief operating officer. Prior to leading CSSL, McDonald was executive director of school safety for Jeffco Public Schools in Colorado for 14 years and is known internationally as the architect of the Columbine High School post-tragedy security and emergency management plan. McDonald has been recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as a subject matter expert on active shooter preparedness, emergency plan development, and school/law enforcement collaboration. McDonald has responded to school crisis or recovery efforts across the country, including in the aftermath of seven school shootings. Following the Sandy Hook tragedy, McDonald was invited to speak at the White House about active shooter preparedness, response, and recovery programs. Among many accolades, McDonald received the prestigious ASTORS Homeland Security Award for excellence in public safety and community resilience in 2022.
CSSL helps school governance teams prepare for and react to significant crises in five critical areas of service:
- Crisis Management Support Services: Assisting with active and post-event services, from critical incident support to “return to learn” planning following a crisis.
- Crisis Communication and Media Relations: Supporting post-event narratives and message development, and effectively responding to inquiries.
- Crisis Management Training: Providing executive leader and board member strategies and tools to lead through crises.
- School Safety Expert Witnesses: Connecting school attorneys and school insurance carriers with nationally recognized expert witnesses experienced in school safety and education.
- Confidential District Investigative Services: Conducting independent investigations in cooperation with school boards or district legal counsel to identify potential concerns.
“Effective crisis management during and in the aftermath of a tragedy is a required skill set for every educational leader in today’s environment,” said McDonald. “Students, parents, and educators deserve our very best efforts on both the best and worst of days. Ensuring continued trust begins with a commitment to safe learning. Our mission at CSSL is to help schools thrive, and this is achieved by ensuring school leadership is prepared and supported in creating safe and focused learning environments.”