Broward’s Caribbean American School Boss Looks Beyond Shooting Tragedy

Author  DAWN A. DAVIS

Embattled Caribbean American Robert W. Runcie rode a groundswell of support last month to return as superintendent of schools in Broward County, Florida, despite efforts to oust him.

Runcie inside1Broward County School Board members voted by a margin of six to three to retainthe Jamaican-born educatorin the post.

Hundreds packed the meeting room, overflow room and hallways of the board’s building in downtown Fort Lauderdale on election day, Mar. 5. Almost 100 Broward residents were allowed to speak, with the majority advocating for Runcie. After more than six hours of comments and discussions, hewas re-elected.

The motion to oust Runcie was brought by Lori Alhadeff, a board member for District 4, whose daughter died in last year’s tragic school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School (MSD) in Parkland.Seventeen people - 14 students and three teachers - were killed by a lone gunmanon Feb. 14, 2018.

Still reeling from pain, anger and hurt, parents, students and the community are still searching for answers. Some blamed Runcie for not doing enough.Among them was Florida’s new Governor Ron DeSantis, who called for Runcie’s removal. However, Runcie claimed he’s tuned out naysayers and is focused on his task as head of Broward schools.

“It’s a very significant and important job,” he told Caribbean Today. “I can’t wake up every day worrying about what someone may or may not do relative to where we are at.”

MISCONCEPTIONS

However, Runcie said he welcomedDeSantis’srecent announcementof a statewide grand jury to look at safety, security and spending practices in districts across Florida, which would cover Broward County. That initiative, he explained, would help clear up misconceptions.

“What I have witnessed and experienced over the past several months, and most of the past year, is an enormous amount of misinformation, spin, and intent to essentially, sometimes even create chaotic situations relative to the district and undermine what we try to do,” said Runcie.

“So, I believe that any type of independent, fact-based review of what we actually do in Broward County will be a good thing because it will, again, further demonstrate the transparency that we’ve been providing to the public.”

It could also provide a fresh start in dealing with issues confronting school districts in the state.

“This is ground zero for what I see as a new era in how school districts look at school safety and security,” said Runcie.

As for the Stoneman Douglas incident, Runcie believes his district’s response was appropriate.

 “I can tell you that we reacted to the Stoneman Douglas tragedy on February 14 with an enormous sense of urgency,” he said.

According to Runcie, the superintendent’s office focused on three areas immediately after the tragedy: Wellness of students, families and the community;putting better safety and security measures in place;and co-operating with and supporting investigations, in particular supporting the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Safety Commission, the entity setup by Floridaand charged with the enquiry into the shooting.

SUPPORT

The focus on wellness led Runcie to open fiveresiliency centers in Parkland where students, teachers, administrators, employees and community residents could receive mental health services and support. He also brought in national experts to help deal with the tragedy and trauma, including the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement, the Center for Mind Body Medicine, and the National Centre for Victims of Crime. Runcie also reached out to other school districts that experienced similar misfortunes.

“We talked to individuals from Columbine, Sandy Hook, the Pulse nightclub. Again, the constant focus on bringing resources to deal with the human element of the tragedy,” explained Runcie.

“In order to make sure that I continued to do that, I spent the first month basically stationed and working out of the Stoneman Douglas High School.”

Runcie said he held numerous meetings with students, teachers and families in the Parkland community,plus Parent Teachers Associations and other organizations, trying to reach out to as many as he could as they struggled to deal with the tragedy.

“When you lose your child or you have a child who is significantly injured in this tragedy, you’re angry and upset and you may not want to talk to anybody from the district,” he explained. “But, I will tell you that there hasn’t been a lack of trying to reach out. I really think about the MSD community every day, in particular the families I know that are suffering. I am trying to do work to honor the lives that we lost.”

Stoneman Douglas and other schools in Parkland were staffed with 25 additional mental health clinicians. The high school also housed two mental health centers and received several therapy dogs to help surviving students cope.

In Mar. 2018,the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act was signed into law by Florida’s then Governor Rick Scott. The legislation requires districts to conduct risk assessment at all schools. According to Runcie, the Broward conducted 250 such analyses last summer.

SAFETY

Broward County Public Schools has also accelerated and enhanced its existing safety and security protocols. Runcie explained that the county engaged the services of an independent security consulting firm to conduct risk assessment, train and upgrade all countywide security systems.

Based on their report, the school board adopted and prioritized additional security enhancements valued at around $31 million. The money was earmarked for video surveillance expansion, radio system enhancement, intercom system upgrades and a new office responsible for security and emergency preparedness. Additional measures, such as more school resource officers and stricter enforcement of existing security protocols, have also been put in place.

However, Runcie admitted that nothing will totally erase the pain caused by the shooting tragedy.

“I know that what we do it’s never going to be enough because I can’t bring back the lives that we lost,”he said. “I can’t bring them back.

“Those that have been injured, they’re going to be living with their injuries, we can’t undo those.

Those that are suffering emotional distress, they are going to have long-term impacts from that.

“But, we have a responsibility to do all that we can. I believe that we can get to where we need to be much faster the quicker that we understand that we all have to work together as a community in a unified way. That is what our children would expect us to do. That’s what we owe them.”

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