Honoring Women’s Leadership in School Safety: Stories of Innovation and Impact

Originally published by Michele Gay on LinkedIn.

LinkedIn article banner with blog title, Safe and Sound Schools logo, and a collage of headshots depicting women in school safety.

As we celebrate International Women’s Day, I’m honored to shine light on some of the incredible women leading the charge in school safety, mental health, and emergency response. Through their intelligent, resourceful, and innovative approaches, these women are reshaping our educational environments for the better.

With voices that echo wisdom, compassion, and a shared commitment to creating safe and sound environments for our children and communities, I’m sure you’ll be as inspired as I am by their resilience and unwavering dedication.

Furthermore, I encourage us to celebrate the achievements of all women within our industry and reaffirm our commitment to supporting and uplifting women in all spheres of life.

A heartfelt thank you to Dr. Melissa Reeves, Dr. Amy Grosso, Barbara Grimm, Missy Dodds, Dr. Savahanna Wagner, and Meg Soultz for graciously offering insights on what inspired them to embark on their journeys in school safety, how their leadership has made a difference, and the key initiatives they’ve championed to enhance safety in educational settings.

It’s truly an honor to share their stories with you today.

Dr. Melissa Reeves

Past President, National Association of School Psychologists, Threat Assessment & Mental Health Specialist

What inspired you to take a leading role in school safety?  

Early in my career I responded to a large scale school shooting. The impact of that event was life changing and I knew I had to do more. I also worked for an amazing school district who became leaders in school safety. Their leadership embraced and supported the initiatives my colleagues and I wanted to put forth. I owe so much of where I am today to incredible mentoring and forward-thinking leaders who understood the importance of a comprehensive approach to school safety. 

How do you believe your leadership has impacted the approach to school safety within your organization and beyond?  

I hope I am making a difference!  As one of the lead authors of the NASP PREPaRE School Safety and Crisis Preparedness curriculum, I have seen incredible systems change in crisis preparedness, response, and recovery for those who have been trained in the PREPaRE model. We have provided training nationwide and in multiple international countries. State Departments of Education have also adopted this model and are leading state-wide dissemination. I never dreamed it would rise to this level, but the work is exciting!!! I have also done similar work with behavioral threat assessment and management (BTAM). I see myself as a systems change agent and a “connector” among systems…. it truly takes a village!!

Can you share some of the key initiatives or strategies you’ve championed to enhance school safety, and how they’ve made a difference?  

In addition to PREPaRE, I am a huge advocate for a multi-disciplinary approach to behavioral threat assessment and management (BTAM) in schools. Targeted violence most often can be prevented but we need an intervention approach, not a punitive approach. Many times, these concerning behaviors are a cry for help; and punishment alone does not change behavior. A good BTAM approach focuses on prevention and engaging supports. Relationships and connectedness are our best form of prevention!!! 

Dr. Amy Grosso

Director, Expert in Residence, Raptor Technologies, Fmr. Director of Behavioral Health, Round Rock ISD

What inspired you to take a leading role in school safety?

I never imagined I would be in school safety. My focus was always mental health and suicide prevention. As I was working in k-12 education, I became frustrated that while school safety and protecting students from outside threats was important, I knew we were losing more students to suicide than homicide, yet suicide was never part of the discussions. I decided I needed to be part of the solution. I started to do presentations on how mental health is part of school safety. I realized by educating others on early warning signs of students in distress, we can help all students.

How do you believe your leadership has impacted the approach to school safety within your organization and beyond?

I help people know it is okay to talk about mental health. It is okay to be open about emotions. So often, educators don’t feel like they can discuss these areas because of the stigma in society or they don’t feel like they are properly trained. The reality is we all have mental health, and we all struggle at times. The key is recognizing when students are struggling and getting them the appropriate support before it rises to a crisis.

Can you share some of the key initiatives or strategies you’ve championed to enhance school safety, and how they’ve made a difference?

I was a key part of designing and implementing a school policing model where social workers and officers co-responded. I saw how students struggling with mental health were not criminalized for their behavior but instead were provided the assistance they needed. I also witnessed personal growth as we collaborated. We were allowed to be experts in our lane and knew the person next to us had their lane covered. Mutual respect and mutual trust is the only way to work together.

Barbara A. Grimm

Founder, School Responder: A mental health and wellness response app for every student in every school every day

What inspired you to take a leading role in school safety?

I decided to get involved after seeing the toll on children in the school setting. School years should be happy years filled with fond memories, not struggles and feelings of not belonging. My eyes were opened after joining the educational setting.

 

How do you believe your leadership has impacted the approach to school safety within your organization and beyond?

My most impactful moment was when a student said, “I now have a voice.”  Opening the lines of communication between students and staff to create a “community of care”, to help support those in need, speaks to exactly what we are striving for. Knowing our app is giving students the care they need when facing challenges is truly our mission; thus, helping students reach their full potential. Additionally, our solution is a proactive solution instead of reactionary.

 

Can you share some of the key initiatives or strategies you’ve championed to enhance school safety, and how they’ve made a difference?

Allowing students to have a resource that lets the school know what is happening with the students in real-time so that administrators can proactively determine what resources they need – be it for the whole school or an individual student. Real-time qualitative and quantitative information is what’s needed.

Missy Dodds

Survivor of the Red Lake High School Shooting, School Safety Advocate, Speaker and Trainer

What inspired you to take a leading role in school safety?

Never in a million years did I imagine I would be working in the world of school safety. I was a math teacher and I loved it. However, after the school shooting at Red Lake High School, I did not return to teaching. I lost that connection to my passion and my students, and it was heartbreaking for me to lose such a big part of myself.

When I became a mom, I wanted my children to be able to attend school. The only way I could do that was to educate myself on school safety and rebuild my confidence in the safety of the school environments. I now use lessons I have learned to make sure we are keeping not only my own children’s schools safe, but all schools safe.

How do you believe your leadership has impacted the approach to school safety within your organization and beyond?

Locally, I have worked hard within my own community to build the relationships and trust amongst all who sit at the school safety table. It has been an amazing journey as a parent and former teacher to realize how many people truly care about the safety of our Children.

Nationally, I use my voice to encourage others to look at school safety from all angles

and most importantly, not to forget about the child. As you [Michele Gay] say, “It is not the responsibility of one person.​ It is the responsibility of the entire community.”

Can you share some of the key initiatives or strategies you’ve championed to enhance school safety, and how they’ve made a difference?

We all want door locks, access control and good safety plans. These items are a must. At the same time, we cannot forget about our students. So many students come to school without their basic needs met and their trauma cups full and running over. By meeting students’ basic needs, being a trusted adult and letting students know they are loved and matter; we are keeping schools safer. We are providing a place where students can flourish.

This is why I am so excited that Safe and Sound Schools has brought Bright Futures USA to the school safety table. We know how important each student is and how making a difference in one child’s life can truly change the world.

Savahanna Wagner DO, MS, MPH & Meg Soultz MS, EMTP

Co-founders, Rescue in Color: An innovative approach to bleeding control

What inspired you to take a leading role in school safety? 

As professionals in the public safety space and parents of small children, we were deeply concerned about the safety of students in the wake of increasing incidents of violence in schools. Recognizing the critical need for immediate medical intervention during emergencies and being dissatisfied with what was currently available, we created Rescue in Color with a mission to develop a bleeding control kit tailored specifically for schools. Our shared commitment to protecting lives and ensuring the well-being of students inspired us to take a leading role in enhancing school safety through this initiative.

How do you believe your leadership has impacted the approach to school safety within your organization and beyond?  

By taking a thoughtful and innovative approach to a widely accepted industry, we’ve empowered educators and staff with the tools and knowledge to respond effectively to emergencies. Our proactive approach has not only enhanced safety measures within schools but has also influenced broader discussions about trauma response and initiatives aimed at bolstering safety protocols.

Can you share some of the key initiatives or strategies you’ve championed to enhance school safety, and how they’ve made a difference? 

In our dedication to enhancing school safety, we’ve championed initiatives that elevate the importance of bleeding control in the overall discussion of a comprehensive school safety plan. We actively work to make bleeding control an approachable topic for educators, school administrators and students. Through Rescue in Color, we’ve implemented the distribution of bleeding control kits tailored specifically for schools. Equipping educators with these essential tools ensures they have immediate access to the necessary equipment, further enabling them to act swiftly and decisively in critical moments. By making bleeding control a tangible and accessible component of school safety measures, we’ve not only shifted the conversation but have also tangibly empowered those on the front lines of student well-being. 

Thank you for joining me in celebrating the inspiring contributions of these extraordinary women. 

Is there a woman in the school safety space that you would like to celebrate? Give them a shout out in the comments, and let them know how much they are respected and appreciated!

Happy #InternationalWomensDay from Safe and Sound Schools. Together, we’re working towards creating a brighter, safer future for all.

Warm regards,
Michele Gay
Co-Founder, Safe and Sound Schools
michelegay@safeandsoundschools.org
Safe and Sound Schools