What are the Lived Experiences of Indiana Public School Superintendents Overseeing School Safety?
This qualitative study examined the thoughts and perceptions of Indiana public school superintendents overseeing school safety response and planning in their districts. The study was based on interviews of five public school superintendents overseeing safety planning and response in large Indiana school districts located in varying regions of the state. Participants were purposely sampled according to the number of students served in their districts and the number of schools that they were responsible for overseeing. Data were collected by conducting semi structured interviews via telephone with the researcher taking field notes and digitally recording dialogue from the interviews.
Two theoretical frameworks were used in the study—phenomenology and reality testing. Phenomenology was used to focus on the lived experience of the participants in the study. This particular study examined the five participating superintendent’s experiences while overseeing safe school planning and response measures. The participants were asked to describe their experiences and share their perceptions (i.e., what they were doing, why they were doing it, and how it affected safety response and preparedness in their district). One of the planning measures involved participation in the recently mandated safe school plan audit. Reality testing was used to determine what is actually happening in the real world. The use of reality testing in this study focused on determining what was actually occurring in the districts that completed the safe school plan audit process.
As a result of the study, three themes emerged. Superintendent lived experiences, thoughts, perceptions, and actions regarding school safety planning and response are centered on consistency, reaction, and security. Superintendent responses reflected the importance they placed on establishing consistency within their safety planning and response efforts. Despite their efforts to plan and establish consistent mitigation, response, and recovery efforts superintendents lived experiences presented that their thoughts and efforts were often times reactionary. Throughout the interviews, superintendents represented security to be a pivotal element of their safety efforts.
The three themes were further grounded into two assertions. First, Indiana public school superintendents live with a number of uncertainties as they oversee and plan safe school efforts in their districts. Second, Indiana public school superintendents plan and oversee safety operations in the absence of viable quantitative safety incident data.