As a school superintendent, Shawn Kovac had trouble finding credible providers for security services.
“Those you did contact were willing to do reviews for free, but if it happened to be a camera salesman who came out, guess what you needed?” he says.
When he became an IU official, Kovac learned that many superintendents shared his frustration. School security demands expertise only available outside the education realm, but trusted, reasonably priced vendors were hard to find.
That was the beginning of the Region 6 Safe Schools Initiative. The effort combines IUs’ longstanding experience in cost-saving consortiums with information-sharing that bridges the gap between educational priorities and proven security practices.
Under the initiative, districts in three Pennsylvania intermediate units – Appalachia IU 8, Central IU 10, and Tuscarora IU 11, where Kovac is now executive director – can find preferred security partners on a clearinghouse website (safeschools.tiu11.org). The partners are vendors recommended by member school districts, all led by officials with proven security credentials.
In exchange for the listing that reaches dozens of school districts, companies agree to discount their fees. They also get guidance in complying with Pennsylvania’s Act 44, the sweeping 2018 school security law, in order to better serve their school clients.
Listed vendors cover the spectrum of services, from threat prevention and mitigation to training on reacting to active incidents, Kovac said. They include a retired FBI agent specializing in intelligence-gathering for prevention, a retired Pennsylvania State Police trooper who conducts threat assessments, and a veteran-owned business that trains teachers in active-shooter responses. A new aspect is applying the consortium model to making specialized mental health services available for use in crises.
The Safe Schools Initiative also conducts an annual summit connecting superintendents and safety staff from districts and IUs statewide with high-level security vendors. Those vendors have included a Secret Service official whose interviews and profiles of school shooters contribute to threat analyses. All services are free to participating school districts.
“We’re providing resources for school officials who don’t have the time to go out and find them themselves,” Kovac said. “They’re providing recommendations that their peers trust, and they’re getting a consortium price on customized services that assure the safety of staff and students.”