Heads Up

Welcome to Heads Up, a blogging experiment that aims to: 

  • connect the people, parts, and principles of Durham Academy;
  • share ideas about learning and human development;
  • spotlight a few of the many wondrous things I get to see every day at Durham Academy. 

Thanks for reading the posts below — and sending news, links and ideas worth sharing. 

Michael Ulku-SteinerHead of School 


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Campus security updates

On January 14, two dozen parents joined me for coffee, updates, and discussion about campus security. Here I’ll summarize the topics covered and invite any further questions or suggestions (via “add comment” below or by calling or emailing me personally).

Safety is and will remain our first priority at Durham Academy. As have schools everywhere and always, we work hard to help our students think well (intellectual development) and desire well (moral development). Our first responsibility, however, is to deliver them safe and healthy to their parents at the end of each day.

Safety begins with our school culture. Small classes, open dialogue with families, active advisory groups, frequent community meetings, daily tutorial periods, and an experienced faculty (many of whom are DA parents ourselves) – all these contribute to our ethos of attention, safety, and care.

Our work with diversity and inclusion – building a culture in which every student feels safe and welcome – is critically important to school security. Similarly useful: personalized care from teachers who greet students with handshakes, look in their eyes every morning, read their journals with attention, and interact with their advisees and students on sidewalks, playing fields, and community service outings.

DA parents and students share the responsibility carried our faculty to be aware of security threats and willing to speak up if they see anything alarming. Parents should wear their badges when visiting the campus. Students should share signs of concern with their teachers, advisors, or counselors. All of us should greet strangers with a “Welcome to DA. Can I help you?” and direct them as appropriate to the main offices. As our Security Director Larry Isaacs has repeated in faculty meetings through the year, “awareness of the campus and willingness to speak up are more effective than any security cameras, guards, or gates.” If you see something, say something.

Durham Academy has always done regular drills for fire and weather emergencies. For more than a decade, the school has also done regular lockdown drills – training in concert with the Durham Police Department.

Our security team provides 24/7 coverage of both campuses. All members are retired Durham Police Department officers, permitted by state and federal law to carry concealed weapons (which they do as inconspicuously as possible).

Two incidents of theft on the Middle School campus in May and a bomb threat in the Upper School in September (which investigation revealed to be little more than bathroom graffiti) led to a comprehensive review of our security measures. Among the steps initiated and currently in progress:

  • We reviewed and updated our emergency communication systems. During the September incident, we relied too heavily on email and communicated too specifically by division. In any future emergencies, we will use a broadcast (schoolwide) SMS and email message, followed by more detailed division-specific emails. In mid-February we will test this emergency messaging system. Stay tuned for details.
  • Division directors have performed fire, weather, and lockdown drills with more frequency and attention to detail (timing evacuations, perfecting communication, etc.)
  • We erected traffic gates at eight entrances and now close all campuses at night.
  • All members of our administrative team, along with our directors of facilities and extended day programs, completed the National Incident Management System (NIMS) Incident Command System (ICS) training for school administrators. This three-hour module is designed to provide a common vocabulary and response structure for any emergency situation (from earthquake to chemical spill, active shooter to bus accident) and help DA interact more efficiently with local emergency response teams.
  • We added a second daytime security officer to the Middle School campus. After a two-day “ride-along” by a generous DA parent with extensive government and military security experience, the security team learned several key lessons and improved their communications tools.

Most importantly for our long-term planning, the Board of Trustees formed a Security Subcommittee to:

  • think strategically (systematically, proactively, comprehensively) about campus security
  • guide the work of our administrative and security teams on matters of campus safety,
  • draft a Security Master Plan by May, 2014 (prioritizing steps to guide multi-year investment decisions in the coming years)

That Subcommittee has been ably led by Bennet Waters, who combines experience from the Department of Homeland Security and other government agencies with perspective as a DA parent of three and Trustee. The other members of the subcommittee:

  • David Beischer, Chair, Board of Trustees (MS/US Parent)
  • Jerry Benson, Director of Business Services (US/Alumni Parent)
  • Jack Donovan (MS Parent)
  • Anne Lloyd, Vice Chair, Board of Trustees (MS/Alumni Parent)
  • David King (Trustee)
  • Shelayne Sutton (Trustee and US/Alumni Parent)
  • Michael Ulku-Steiner, Head of School (MS Parent)

The subcommittee has approached its work with the assumption that security is an applied function of risk management, understanding that risk management is not risk elimination. Nevertheless, we hope to guide the school toward improved practices in five key areas:

  • Prevention through deterrence and vulnerability identification/mitigation
  • Crisis preparation (plans, training, drills, lessons learned, etc.)
  • Surveillance and early detection of real and emerging threats
  • Consequence management
  • Application of lessons learned and best practices in the field of school security

The first task of the subcommittee: understanding and prioritizing any threats to the safety of DA students, parents, faculty, staff and visitors. To that end, we have considered, quantified, and graphed the probabilities and potential consequences for more than fifty possible threats - from an attack on a teacher to an abduction of a student by a noncustodial parent, from an explosion in the chemistry lab to a rabid fox on the playground. (By the way, the rabid fox is the only one of those four examples with any historical precedent on campus). Our discussions have been patient, complicated, and sometimes surprising. In any case, this exercise has helped us begin to set priorities as we protect first the people, and then the property on our campus.

Our next step: drafting a Mission Statement for the Security Master Plan that will take shape this spring. The current draft of that Mission Statement is below. It will be improved in the coming month by discussion on the committee, as well as any comments contributed by parents.

I will conclude where I began this message. While we will continue to improve the technical aspects of our security efforts, the culture of safety at Durham Academy grows not from metal detectors, guards, and gates. It grows from an ethos of inclusion and community, from the attention and care of our faculty, and from the awareness and willingness of every single community member.

Thank you for your attention to this long message, and for your continued suggestions and support.


Michael Ulku-Steiner
Head of School


Campus Security Mission Statement (DRAFT)

The Mission of the Durham Academy Campus Strategic Security Plan is to ensure our students, parents, employees and visitors have a safe, secure and welcoming environment conducive to learning.

Durham Academy strives to provide each student an education that will enable him or her to live a moral, happy and productive life. In doing so, we recognize that one of the most fundamental of our responsibilities is to ensure our students, parents, employees and visitors have a safe, secure and welcoming environment conducive to learning. We fulfill these responsibilities in a manner consistent with the educational and community goals of the school through an effective risk management strategy.

Campus Security personnel achieve this mission through a community-friendly approach that enhances safety and security through effective operational control of the campuses and knowledge of personnel authorized to be on them; visibility of 24/7 security personnel and randomized, preventive patrols; and demonstrated best practices in all aspects of emergency incident prevention, planning, preparation, response and communications. In addition, Campus Security personnel collaborate with local law enforcement and public safety personnel to align DA’s security initiatives with those of the City of Durham.


In executing the Strategic Security Plan, we:

  1. Support the school's longstanding culture of inclusion, attention to individuals, and community spirit;
  2. Prioritize the protection of life over property;
  3. Expect security to be a shared responsibility among all DA constituencies;
  4. Balance the need to respect the rights and privacy of individuals with our security responsibilities; and
  5. Use a multitude of resources and prefer proactive to reactive measures.


The DA Campus Strategic Security Plan has four fundamental goals:

  1. Ensure a safe and secure environment through operational control of the physical campuses in a manner consistent with the Campus Security Mission Statement;
  2. Maintain situational awareness regarding potential warning signs, external stressors, and indicators of concerning behavior involving students, parents, employees and visitors;
  3. Demonstrate excellence in applying risk-based principles and implementing effective incident command, emergency response and stakeholder communications; and
  4. Conduct regular audits, exercises and evaluations of the Campus Security Plan in coordination and cooperation with affected internal and external constituencies.
Posted by in Other on Sunday January, 26, 2014


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