When Joanne Jaffe first started at Success Academy last year as the Senior Advisor of School Safety and Security, she walked every single neighborhood of every single school she oversaw. She wanted to know every sidewalk, every apartment building, every park, every grocery store near her schools. Perhaps her close attention to detail comes from her 38 years in the New York City Police Department — first as an officer, then moving up to a commander of three precincts, a borough commander of The Bronx, Chief of the Housing Bureau, and Chief of Community Affairs. As the highest ranking woman in the New York City Police Department, Jaffe built a legacy of safeguarding the citizens of New York City — a legacy she now brings to our schools. We sat down with Jaffe to gain an understanding of how she helps keep our staff and families safe.
What kinds of safety issues do you handle?
I know firsthand that in a busy city like New York, just like everywhere else in the world, emergencies happen every day. The ones we tend to think of first — active shooters, fires, or other large-scale disasters — are one thing, but other types of emergencies can affect our schools, too. Say, for instance, a crane collapses a few blocks away from one of our schools. If the collapse causes people to be displaced, the city may want to use the first floor of a school as a shelter, so now we may need to relocate to another floor. So there’s this immediate disruption to the kids’ school day, and in some cases, even the parents’ day, since emergencies like these could make it hard for parents to pick up their kids. There are also traffic-related problems during arrival and dismissal. Since we have 45 schools in four boroughs, we have to be very cognizant of these sorts of “daily” incidents that can cause concern and interfere with student learning.
How do you handle these emergencies?
Short-term, we are constantly troubleshooting solutions to prioritize a safer environment. At Washington Heights, for example, some neighbors have complained about traffic during dismissal. To address that, we’re trying out dismissal from a different street, and at the same time, we’re also letting elected officials know about some of the hostility our families and staff have been subjected to. Having been in an executive position in the NYPD since 1998, I’m used to being on the phone 24/7 and working with city government to help manage spur-of-the-moment issues and long-term solutions.
Longer term, I am all about empowering staff with knowledge on emergency preparedness. We train our school staff, Business Operations Managers (BOMs), and Principals on response protocol for evacuations, lockdowns, shelter-ins, child behavior indicators of abuse—you name it. I’ve brought in training from the outside, such as the Fire Department, the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS), and the Office of Emergency Management. Also, all schools and the network have maps of their precinct with “iconic locations” highlighted — notable spots that may be a target (for example, a Bronx school’s iconic location might be Yankee Stadium) so that they’re aware of their surroundings in case of an emergency.
At the end of the day, the kids are why we’re here.
We really want to be comprehensive and make our staff feel confident handling anything that comes their way. Because at the end of the day, the kids are why we’re here. They’re the most important parts of our job, and it’s our responsibility to protect them.
Why are you passionate about your work?
My work in law enforcement provided me with glaring insights into the inequality and often powerlessness that exists in society, but it also taught me what really matters — instilling in our children a sense of hope and opportunity. I believe every child deserves to have the best education available to them — and the freedom to take part in that education securely. It’s so fulfilling to work with so many passionate individuals to help those scholars and their families achieve that.
What advice would you give families and staff to remain safe?
Whether in a car or walking, it’s so important to stay vigilant and focus on your surroundings. There are so many things that take up our attention in subtle ways, so staying off your phone even while walking in the street with your dog or dropping your child off for school is the best way to stay safe. Oftentimes we don’t realize how much is going on around us that might distract us, so teaching your kids to be aware of their surroundings is a great lesson.
Also, please please attend your community council meetings! These are monthly meetings in your precinct that will help you know more about crime patterns, law enforcement efforts, and public safety programs in your community. As a citizen, you have a right to know what’s going on and to have a voice that should be heard. Empowering yourself to help shape the climate of your own community will provide your family with a more safe and secure environment.
If you want to find out which precinct you’re in, or learn more about these meetings, click here.