Klinger’s ESSN nonprofit provides expertise on school safety

Amy Klinger
Amy Klinger, pictured here teaching a class at AU, is one of the nation's leading experts in school safety.

ASHLAND, Ohio – Amy Klinger’s passion for school safety began about 15 years ago when she was a principal and her oldest son had just joined the volunteer fire department in their small town in northwestern Ohio.

“He had so much training at 18 years old in this little rural fire department and I was running a school with hundreds and hundreds of kids and I had no training,” she said. “At my school I was the first responder until the firefighters/EMTs showed up and that contrast in training was so sharp that I thought there’s got to be a better way to put resources and training in the hands of the first, first responders – teachers and administrators.”

After doing her doctoral work on the subject shortly after that “ah-ha” moment, Klinger started Educator’s School Safety Network (ESSN), a national nonprofit that provides school safety training and resources (podcasts, webinars, books, etc.) for educators, with her oldest daughter, Amanda Klinger, an attorney.

About the same time, Amy Klinger became a full-time professor at Ashland University teaching graduate courses in leadership areas, eventually including school safety courses. Amanda Klinger is a professional instructor of education at AU who joined the university as an adjunct faculty member in 2014 and full time in 2019, also teaching school safety graduate courses.

Since 2010, the Klingers have presented at conferences across the country to thousands of educators and have served as school safety experts on PBS NewsHour, CNN, C-SPAN and other national media outlets – mostly after school shootings.

After 19 children and two adults were killed in a shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, on May 24, Amy Klinger was busy making national media appearances.

“I’m interested in doing the media stuff not because it’s fun and exciting, but because someone needs to talk for teachers and educators,” she said. “If someone wants to talk to me, I will do the best I can to be a voice for educators.”

With schools just underway for 2022-23, Klinger also hopes she can help them have a safe school year.

Her advice to superintendents and other school administrators? Don’t just focus on active shooting training, take a comprehensive, all-hazards approach – more preventative and less reactive drills.

“When all you do is focus on active shooter training and that’s it, you’ve actually made your schools less safe because you haven’t focused on the things that are more likely to happen,” Klinger said. “No one knows where the AED is, no one knows how to diffuse a violent situation, and you don’t have enough supervision, you don’t have good access control, you don’t know who’s in your building.”

Coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic also has made schools less safe, Klinger said. They have been focused so much on public health the past few years that they weren’t paying enough attention on violence or threats or mental health, she added.

“We have talked about getting back to basics,” Klinger said. “We basically look at school safety as being kind of continuous improvement. Anything that you do is better than what you were doing before.”

One of the things that has given ESSN additional national notoriety is being able to provide timely statistics on violent threats and incidences at schools.

ESSN works with some school districts every year and some just one time to help them get started on their school safety journey.

“I think it’s beneficial to the school districts and to me because I find it so rewarding, but it’s also beneficial to Ashland (University) to have that face, to have someone out there talking about why it’s important, why education is important,” Klinger said. “The things we do at Ashland at the College of Education are significant and are important. I have a lot of people who have taken trainings that want to learn more who come to Ashland to take a class.”

Ashland University President Carlos Campo appreciates Klinger being a national face for AU.

“Dr. Amy Klinger has elevated the reputation of our institution because of her career of distinction,” Campo said.  “In addition, to have someone with her expertise on campus is a tremendous benefit.”

According to Klinger, AU is one of the only universities in the nation that offers and requires school safety training as a part of the Masters in Education leadership training, something she pushed for when she first started working at the university.

“I am a strong advocate for school safety,” Klinger said. “I think it should be required for everyone who is in education. What are you going to do in education that is more important than making sure the kids survive? What other training are you going to get that is more important than that? There isn’t.”

Not only is Klinger appreciative of her son starting her on her school safety journey by becoming a volunteer firefighter, she also is grateful he is a school administrator with a degree in emergency management who helps ESSN as a consultant. Her youngest daughter with graphic designs for presentations and youngest son, an AU grad with a criminal justice degree, also have helped ESSN. And, of course, Amanda, has always been part of the small organization with a national reach.

“Those perspectives are so important – the legal perspective, the law enforcement perspective, the education perspective,” Klinger said about her four children. “We will look at a safety problem and see it differently. It’s important for the people we are working with to see all those sides of it.”

For more information about ESSN, which is offering a free online, on-demand school safety course to anyone through 2022, visit eschoolsafety.org.

Ashland University is a mid-sized, private university conveniently located a short distance from Akron, Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio. Ashland University (www.ashland.edu) values the individual student and offers a unique educational experience that combines the challenge of strong applied academic programs with a faculty and staff who build nurturing relationships with their students.