Baker Mitchell Archives - North Carolina Coalition for Charter Schools

For schools, safety is the ‘number one job’

By News

A new Parent Engagement Committee, with a charter parent and law enforcement expert on board, is at the ready

On October 27, the Center for Safer Schools (CFSS) launched its timely new Parent Engagement Committee, featuring district and charter parents from each of the state’s eight education regions. Committee members will advise Karen Fairley, the executive director at CFSS, and will help develop school safety recommendations for state policymakers. The new committee moves forward with a highly qualified charter parent for whom the Coalition advocated: law enforcement expert Ed Carter, whose 6th grade daughter has attended Classical Charter Schools of Southport (CCSS) since kindergarten.

Advising policymakers on school safety is work Carter is fully prepared to do. A former deputy sheriff, police officer, and U.S. Air Force law enforcement specialist, he has considerable experience working in schools.

“I’ve been in law enforcement since 1995, so almost 30 years,” Carter says. “Early in my career as a law enforcement officer, I served as a school resource officer at a high school. So, I’ve had some experience in dealing with the safe schools issues.” He has also served on the board of the North Carolina Association of School Resource Officers. As his career advanced, he began training SROs.

Since his retirement in 2020, Carter has stayed on as a trainer. “I’m one of the guys that helps new officers to be school resource officers and I also continue to educate the guys that are in place,” he says.

Students and staff from Classical Charter Schools of America, a network of public charter schools. Photo credit: CCSS.

Addressing campus disparities—and understanding community context

He’ll leverage his considerable experience as he looks for ways to improve school safety statewide. What’s top of mind for him right now? Carter is concerned about campus disparities—in SRO utilization, incident reporting, and emergency response protocols.

“SRO engagement and involvement is a big ticket right now because that’s a fairly inconsistent thing across the state,” he says. “One school system may use officers this way while another may use them another way.” Disparities in reporting complicate matters further. “I would like to clean that up so if an officer goes from this classical charter school to another charter school, they’ll be on the same playing field. There has got to be some bridge-building and information-sharing going on,” he adds.

Basic, shared safety protocols are also essential. “We’re going to be following the same protocol regardless of the property,” Carter says of the response from law enforcement. “If there’s any difference in how the charter is doing it versus what we expect to see happen, that’s going to be a huge hindrance.”

Understanding community context is critical too. “One thing that is really important from the officer perspective—and this is true for any school, whether it’s a charter or Christian or [traditional] public school—is that school is always going to be a reflection of the demographic that feeds into [it],” he says.

Providing ‘really important representation for the charter system’

CCSS Headmaster Bill Stidham has seen firsthand how valuable Carter’s expertise can be in securing school safety resources and strengthening protocols. Last year, when an incident occurred on CCSS’ campus, the school did not have a funded SRO, which fueled a drop in enrollment. Carter helped Stidham apply successfully for a grant to fund one. Carter’s informed perspective on the new committee will be invaluable, Stidham believes, especially given funding disparities between district and charter schools.

“His involvement on our campus and his eye through a law enforcement lens has really helped with putting structures in place,” Stidham says. “To have that voice at a state level representing charter schools—[given] the disparity between what a public school for each county gets, versus what is appropriated for charter schools—will provide really important representation for the charter school system.”

Baker Mitchell, the founder of Classical Charter Schools of America—the charter network of which CCSS is a part—is hopeful that the new committee will be comprehensive in its scope and mindful of charter autonomy in its recommendations. “Safety in the law enforcement aspect has its vital role; but in a school’s day to day operations, other areas also need attention and demand awareness with reporting protocols,” he says. Facility repairs, dangerous weather events, health hazards: These, and others, all fall within the scope of administrators’ safety concerns. “Safety must have the broadest definition possible,” he affirms, “with flexibility for charters to customize their response to fit their local communities.”

In the end, the mandate for schools is clear. “We have to portray to the community that we have safety measures in place to keep their children safe from the moment they get here to the moment they go home,” Stidham notes.

“Safety is our number one job,” he adds.

Classical Charter Schools of Southport is a 600-student, K-8 school located between Southport and Supply in Brunswick County, North Carolina, and has been part of the Classical Charter Schools of America network since 2015.  The school recently celebrated construction of a new auditorium and gymnasium and launched its inaugural 8th grade class this fall.