Broward County Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie at left. Clockwise from left are parents Tony Montalto, Ryan Petty, Max Schachter, Andrew Pollack, Fred Guttenberg, and Lori Alhadeff.
Families & the Community Project

At a Parkland Elementary School, PTA Decides It Can’t Wait for Safety Upgrades

By Benjamin Herold — December 12, 2018 4 min read
  1. Chapters
  2. 01.
    Introduction
  3. 02.
    Ripple Effects
  4. 03.
    ‘Things Have Changed’
Families & the Community Project

At a Parkland Elementary School, PTA Decides It Can’t Wait for Safety Upgrades

By Benjamin Herold — December 12, 2018 4 min read
  • Introduction

    This fall, the PTA at Riverglades Elementary raised nearly $42,000 through its “no-brainer” event—just write the school a check, parents were told, and call it a day.

    In a normal year, said PTA president Cara De Meo, all that money might have gone to new laptops for students, or new keyboards for the music department.

    But this year, there’s another priority to consider.

    Improving school security.

    The PTA at Parkland’s Riverglades Elementary School decided to spend some of the funds it has raised on beefing up security, including a new buzzer system for the entrance to the school.

    Riverglades is just a few miles away from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, where a school shooting left 17 dead and 17 injured last February.

    “It’s been upsetting for everybody,” De Meo said.

    Eager for immediate action, the Riverglades PTA already spent more than $6,500 last spring for a new buzzer system to help secure their school’s entryway, plus nearly $3,000 for new stop-the-bleed kits for every classroom.

    Now, Riverglades parents are asking some of the same hard questions as the families of the Stoneman Douglas victims. Can the 271,000-student Broward County school district keep their children safe? When it comes to addressing ongoing security gaps at the county’s 234 schools, can Superintendent Robert Runcie summon any kind of urgency from the district’s massive bureaucracy? And even in a place like Parkland, how much should parents realistically be expected to take on themselves?

    “Everyone has come together to get a lot done,” De Meo said.

    “But the PTA is there to enhance the school, not to protect the kids.”

  • Ripple Effects

    Parkland parents who didn’t lose children inside Marjory Stoneman Douglas are sensitive to the special concerns of victims’ families.

    Still, said Pamela Ofstein, many people in this small city of 37,000 have a story.

    Ofstein’s daughter is a 4th grader at Riverglades, where she’s heavily involved in the PTA. She has another daughter in 8th grade at Parkland’s Westglades Middle. And her son is currently a sophomore at Stoneman Douglas High.

    On Feb. 14, Ofstein said, her son texted her from inside the high school’s auditorium, telling her there was an active shooter on campus. Then the connection was lost. She was in Miami. Unsure if her children were OK, Ofstein scrambled to make it home.

    In the days and weeks after the tragedy, she said, the close-knit Riverglades school community pulled together. They helped each other adjust to the law enforcement officers with long rifles who now stood watch outside their previously sleepy elementary school. The PTA also surveyed Riverglades parents about their safety priorities. Like other schools in the area, they requested a meeting with Runcie and his executive team.

    A new system for buzzing in visitors was at the top of Riverglades parents’ wish list, Ofstein said, followed by security camera upgrades and fencing around the school.

    At the meeting, she and De Meo agreed, Runcie and his team were attentive and courteous.

    But the district’s message was clear.

    “They were very receptive to any enhancement, if we were going to pay for it,” De Meo said. Anything that went through the district was going to take longer.

    Together with Riverglades Principal JoAnne Seltzer, the PTA decided to be strategic.

    Unwilling to wait for their top priority, parents footed most of the bill for the new buzzer system, which was installed over the summer.

    Superintendent Runcie had already signaled that video camera upgrades would be a top districtwide priority in response to the Stoneman Douglas tragedy, so Riverglades parents decided to let that process play out on its own. The district paid for and installed that new system over the summer, too.

    But the Riverglades PTA and principal decided to let the district handle the new security fencing. That meant going through centralized processes, such as legal review and vendor approval. The fence didn’t go up until mid-November—relatively quick turnaround for a school district, but painfully slow for some parents worried about their children’s safety.

    “I think we went into it with eyes wide open,” De Meo said. “My expectations weren’t very high to begin with.”

  • ‘Things Have Changed’

    Runcie said he understands why the district’s efforts to upgrade school security don’t feel like enough for many people in Parkland.

    “We have done a lot, and we need to do a lot more,” he said.

    For many Parkland parents, it’s been an educational experience.

    Like just about all of their neighbors, both Ofstein and De Meo said, they moved to Parkland for its A-rated public schools, close-knit community, and apparent safety. Prior to the shooting, they brought all of their education questions directly to administrators of the local schools their children attended. The Broward superintendent and school board were distant entities they had little reason to interact with.

    And it certainly never seemed likely that the horrifying school shootings that appeared on the news could happen here.

    Now, though, that insular bubble has been burst.

    “No one knew where Parkland was before this,” De Meo said.

    “It makes me sad to say that. But things have changed.”

Lead Graphic: Broward County Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie at left. Clockwise from left are parents Tony Montalto, Ryan Petty, Max Schachter, Andrew Pollack, Fred Guttenberg, and Lori Alhadeff.

Photography by Josh Ritchie for Education Week

Graphics by Gina Tomko

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Budget & Finance Webinar
Innovative Funding Models: A Deep Dive into Public-Private Partnerships
Discover how innovative funding models drive educational projects forward. Join us for insights into effective PPP implementation.
Content provided by Follett Learning
Budget & Finance Webinar Staffing Schools After ESSER: What School and District Leaders Need to Know
Join our newsroom for insights on investing in critical student support positions as pandemic funds expire.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Achievement Webinar
How can districts build sustainable tutoring models before the money runs out?
District leaders, low on funds, must decide: broad support for all or deep interventions for few? Let's discuss maximizing tutoring resources.
Content provided by Varsity Tutors for Schools

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Families & the Community Q&A How These District Leaders Turned Family Engagement on Its Head
Two Leaders to Learn From share insights on what family and community engagement entails.
7 min read
Families & the Community Video ‘A Welcoming Place’: Family Engagement Strategies for Schools (Video)
Schools that enlist parents as partners see positive results. Here's how to do it.
1 min read
Families & the Community Bring Back In-Person Field Trips. Here's Why
School field trips took a hit due to the pandemic and are still recovering. Educators and experts explain why they should come back.
4 min read
Students from Piney Branch Elementary School in Bristow, Va. arrive at Elizabeth Furnace Recreational Area in the George Washington National Forest in Fort Valley, Va. on Tuesday, April 23, 2024 for an outdoor education field trip. During the field trip, students will release brook trout that they’ve grown from eggs in their classroom into Passage Creek and participate in other outdoor educational activities.
Students from Piney Branch Elementary School in Bristow, Va., arrive at Elizabeth Furnace Recreational Area in the George Washington National Forest in Fort Valley, Va., on April 23, 2024, for an outdoor education field trip.
Sam Mallon/Education Week
Families & the Community 5 Ways to Get Parents More Involved in Schools
Schools don't need an influx of money and resources to have effective family engagement, experts say.
9 min read
Various school representatives and parent liaisons attend a family and community engagement think tank discussion at Lowery Conference Center on March 13, 2024 in Denver. One of the goals of the meeting was to discuss how schools can better integrate new students and families into the district. Denver Public Schools has six community hubs across the district that have serviced 3,000 new students since October 2023. Each community hub has different resources for families and students catering to what the community needs.
School representatives and parent liaisons attend a family and community engagement think tank discussion at Lowery Conference Center on March 13, 2024 in Denver. One of the goals of the meeting was to discuss how schools can better integrate new students and families into the district.
Rebecca Slezak For Education Week