Parents sit in chairs at a school community meeting
Willow Glen High School parents learned about changes to the school's safety plan at a community meeting on Feb. 12, 2024. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

One San Jose high school is stepping up its safety measures following threats to students last year. Parents, teachers and officials hope the improvements will be adopted by other schools in the district.

Willow Glen High School’s school site council updated its safety plan after a series of incidents, including an arrest of a Willow Glen High School student who walked on campus armed with a loaded ghost gun and knife. Before that, a Hoover Middle School student was caught with a loaded firearm and an Abraham Lincoln High School student was arrested after threatening on social media to shoot classmates with an assault rifle.

The incidents rocked the San Jose Unified School District last spring and were the impetus for the safety plan, which the parents developed and launched.

The plan, now in place, is designed to address student accountability, attendance, review behavioral threat assessments and response protocols. School leaders say they’re seeing results.

Maren Sederquist, school site council chair, said the updates have been effective, resulting in a 22.4% increase in attendance and 56% decrease in tardies since last year. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

At a school community meeting last week, Maren Sederquist, school site council chair for Willow Glen High School, said the plan has resulted in a 22.4% increase in attendance and a 56% decrease in tardies since last year. In January last year, the high school had 44% of seniors on track to graduate, and it’s already up to 77% as of January. 

“At Willow Glen High, our graduation rates for seniors are always between 92% and 97%,” she said, “but getting them up to a higher percentage in January is gonna give more of them a better chance.”

How the plan works

Accountability and consistency are the foundations of the updated safety plan. All student searches and suspensions will be equitable. Students are supervised at all times, there are consequences for missed tutorials, gaps are removed from students’ schedules, passes are required for leaving class and parents must be present to check their teens out. 

“If we walk into a room and it smells like marijuana… every student is going to be searched,” Sederquist said. “We’re not trying to target certain students. People are being treated fairly.”

For added security, all administrators roam the campus throughout the day and cameras are checked frequently. Speakers in classrooms are tested regularly.

Students are less fearful to use the restrooms, Sederquist said, now that they’re supervised. Restrooms are cleaner and have less tagging and drug use, she added. 

Sederquist said the Why Wait Project has been an invaluable resource in updating the school’s safety plan. Last year, parent Trudi McCanna formed the Why Wait Project to provide school site councils — responsible for creating safety plans for individual campuses — with research-based, best-practice approaches to school safety.

Other school site council parents are following what the school’s doing, but they need support from the district to ensure their plans can be implemented, McCanna told San José Spotlight.

At the Feb.12 meeting, she said the district puts overwhelming responsibility on schools dealing with safety issues and called for a safety program director at the district level.

Parent Trudi McCanna hopes SJUSD will respond positively to Willow Glen High School’s efforts and take them a step further. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

San Jose Unified School District Board President Wendi Mahaney-Gurahoo said she participated in Simonds Elementary School’s site safety plan meeting. She said each school forwarded its safety plan and public comments to the district for evaluation and future planning.

“Although I cannot be at all the school site safety plan committee meetings, I trust that each school is also going through this process which takes into account each individual school’s differences,” she told San José Spotlight. “This also allows for flexibility of those schools who may want to be more engaged or have other challenging issues to address that are specific to their school site.”

Sederquist said SJUSD updated its safety protocols and emergency response and created a seven-page summary for parents. She’d like the district to allow the school to pilot an anonymous reporting system created by the Sandy Hook Promise, where students can report a classmate at risk of harming themselves or others through an app, website or telephone hotline connected to a team of trained counselors.

She said an increase is needed in the availability of naloxone on campus to combat opioid overdoses, as well as trauma kits, battery-powered lights, classroom walkie-talkies and outside lighting.

Parent Holly Gallup said the meeting reassured her about safety on campus. McCanna was also impressed with how much the school site council has accomplished.

“I don’t know of any other school in the district that… has looked at the safety plan with such thoroughness,” McCanna said. “Willow Glen High School is absolutely leading the way in our district.”

Contact Lorraine Gabbert at [email protected].

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