Pictured from left, N.C. Rep. John Torbett, State Supt. Catherine Truitt, CFSS Executive Director Karen W. Fairley and former N.C. Rep. Jamie Boles
State and local education officials from around North Carolina gathered Friday, March 17 as the Center for Safer Schools marked its 10th anniversary at the Education Building in Raleigh. The meeting recognized the accomplishments of the CFSS while also keeping the focus on the importance of safer schools.
On March 19, 2013 – as a direct response to the December 2012 shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. – then-Gov. Pat McCrory signed an executive order creating the Center for Safer Schools. The CFSS was created on the concept of assisting North Carolina schools to ensure their personnel are equipped, trained and have the skills required to make schools safer. The vision for the CFSS is that all schools in the state are safer, secure and offer an environment conducive to learning.
During the anniversary meeting, officials praised the work of the CFSS – past, present and future.
State Superintendent Catherine Truitt said that when she took office in 2021, she saw the CFSS as her avenue to make “positive change” regarding school safety.
“We have too many superintendents and principals with sleepless nights,” she said. “Their work is important,” she said of the CFSS.
Truitt stressed the importance of keeping parents engaged in school safety initiatives. The CFSS plans to add a parent engagement section, which Truitt said will complement the Parent Advisory Commission she created in June.
“Parents are their children’s first teachers and foundation for success in school and life,” she said.
CFSS Executive Director Karen W. Fairley said that when she took the helm in 2021, she and her husband immediately gained 1.5 million children.
“I would have to focus on these children as if they were my own,” she said.
Fairley thanked the General Assembly – in particular Rep. John Torbett and former Rep. Jamie Boles – for their longstanding support of the CFSS. She said her first day working with the legislature made an immediate impression.
“I saw the work come alive. I saw how passionate they were about school safety,” Fairley said. “They would listen. It was about what they could do for our children.”
Both Torbett and Boles touted the need to keep school staff properly trained, especially in the way of mental health for children.
“If we can catch them now, we have done a great thing for society,” Torbett said.
Boles praised the partnership among the departments of Public Instruction, Public Safety and Justice in school safety training. The CFSS has a temporary Training Center in Moore County and plans to open a permanent facility in Montgomery County in late 2024.
“It’s interesting how things have changed,” Boles said. “They can’t learn unless they feel safe.”
During the next few months, Fairley said, the CFSS plans to add 12-15 staff members, including one school safety specialist in all eight regions. She gave an overview of major initiatives and projects the CFSS is focusing on, including EKG2, SHINE/SEED, Mental Health First Aid and the Rave Panic Alarm.
Fairley stressed that it’s vital for the CFSS to support school districts.
“We respect educators,” Fairley said. “It’s the Center’s job to help them do better.”