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Friends of Safe Schools U.S.A

2023 School Safety Symposium

Embassy Suites by Hilton Pittsburgh Downtown

May 15 & 16, 2023



Aaron Stark will present "I Was Almost a School Shooter"- Aaron Stark grew up in a very chaotic and violent household. While his mother tried to take care of his brother and him, she too was a victim of their father, a violent man. His stepfather was not much better and replaced outright horror with drugs and crime. By 14, Aaron was kicked out of his house and by 11th grade, he was a quiet, sensitive, obese social outcast with an affinity for poetry and comic books. He had no home and often slept outdoors. The isolation and bullying eventually became unbearable and at age 16, having already dropped out of high school, Aaron reached out for help. Unfortunately, the young caregiver he was staying with was too inexperienced to identify the help Aaron needed.

Facing utter hopelessness, he had planned to get a gun from a classmate and bring it to school and kill as many people as he could before he killed himself. He wanted to be heard. The abuse he had suffered had closed him off and he wanted to feel an emotion other than pain. He wanted to feel, for once, like he was in control, even if it meant spreading destruction and death. The shooting never happened, though, because only days before the attack was set to take place, a positive interaction with an unwitting person who showed him compassion forced Aaron off the ledge he had built.

Aaron is the author of “I would have been a school shooter if I could’ve gotten a gun” published in The Washington Post on March 8, 2018. He has since appeared on MSNBC , ABC, CBS, FOX, CNN, and has been featured in TIME magazine. Aaron also gave the TEDx Talk "I Was Almost a School Shooter" that currently has over 14 million views.



Anthony Huey will present “Communicating in a Crisis”. Somewhere within every organization, a crisis is waiting to happen. Maybe tomorrow, maybe next year or even in five years; you can’t be sure what the crisis will be or when it will strike. But you can be sure that a crisis will put your organization’s hard-earned image and reputation up for grabs. The old adage, perception is reality, has never been truer than in today’s superficial, hyper-critical and social media-driven world. This timely and highly entertaining keynote offers actionable keys to swaying internal and external perception during a negative event. Attendees will learn how to respond to questions briefly and directly, and learn how to control the flow of information in a crisis. Anthony’s presentation includes several real-world video examples of his clients controlling a crisis. His sessions also include realistic mock news interviews of session attendees in front of a camera, followed by detailed critiques.

Derek Clark will present "How Almost Dying Saved My Life"- Derek is the Director of Athletic Performance and Head Trainer for the Quaker Valley School District. He previously served as an Athletic Trainer and Coordinator of Reconditioning for the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers football team. Derek, a self-proclaimed stress-oholic, shares his story of how improperly managing his stress had devastating effects on his overall health. He explains what stress is and why we need it, but warns us about chronic stress and having poor stress management strategies. He explains ways that we can fortify our internal environment to manage the stress in our lives more effectively. This is a story of resiliency and how better self-care habits can lead to better mental and physical wellness.

Lt. Rudy Perez, Bunni Benaron, and Dr. Barry Stockhamer will introduce everyone to Rocket. The Rocket Rules programs teach emergency preparedness, safety awareness and social emotional skills to children PreK to 2nd grade. Rocket’s fun library of videos, books and activities teach children life-saving safety skills and foundational mental health tools so they can do their best every day! SROs, local law enforcement, teachers, and school counselors can present activities in the classroom in 15-20 minutes. “Rocket’s Sense of Safety and Beyond” curriculum includes teaching students to use their 6 Senses to stay safe every day to and from school, at home, and in the community. It also helps them make smart decisions to avoid dangerous situations. The brand-new “Rocket’s Finding Feelings” curriculum subjects include Self-Regulation, Self-Esteem, Identifying Your Emotions, Anxiety, Trauma, Grief and Loss, Empathy, Exercise and Mental Health, Asking for Help, and Cyberbullying. ROCKET Live! Will allow you to team up with Rocket in any K-2 classroom for a live ZOOM interactive safety lesson with Rocket himself.

Perez is a 21-year veteran of the Los Angeles School Police Department and has worked a variety of assignments including school campuses, day and night patrol, interagency task forces, gang detail unit, bike patrol, training unit, lead detective for the Threat Assessment Unit and Mental Health Team, Social Media Unit, and Public Information Officer. He is currently working as the LASPD Adjutant to the Chief of Police. • Benaron is a former inner-city teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District. She has a passionate commitment to promote safety and emergency preparedness to everyone, especially young children. She has developed partnerships with law enforcement agencies and school districts across the nation that work to help build bridges. In 2011, Benaron and her husband Rick created The Hero In You Foundation, which now reaches thousands of children in more than 38 states. • Dr. Stockhamer is a former elementary school principal and high school administrator. He taught special education for many years. As an administrator he oversaw counseling, increasing school graduation rates, improved academic outcomes and school culture at multiple schools.

Matthew Jones and Shelley Muto will present Fatal Friday Night Lights: A Case Study of Response and Recovery- Mr. Jones is the Superintendent of Schools for Jeannette City School District. On Friday, September 6, 2019, in the waning moments of the extremely popular Friday night Jeannette High School Jayhawk football game, a fatal shooting took place at the stadium. Both the suspect and victim were well-known parents and citizens in the city, and the incident sent shockwaves throughout the small urban community. The Jeannette City School District’s response to the incident established an immediate tone for recovery, and although the district had never trained for an event involving the population and location, the transferable skills from other trainings and protocols allowed district personnel to deal with an open air, after school, large scale security incident involving the student body, visiting students and game patrons. This session will provide an overview of the violent incident, administration and emergency services immediate response, the school district timeline of actions during the initial 72 hours, and the plan for after care and support services in the following days and weeks. Presenters will share lessons learned, including revisions to the emergency operations plan, training protocols, support services for students, staff and families, and the unique circumstances of being tasked with response while in the presence of family.

Will Paladines from Motorola Solutions will present  'How to Find and Pursue Funding Opportunities to Fulfill Security and Communication Projects'. This agnostic presentation will explore the resources that are available to help state, local, tribal, and territorial governments to identify available funding sources, plan security and emergency communications projects using state, federal, & local grants, and inform decision-makers on the importance of funding and sustaining school safety and communications systems.

Joey Melvin from Center for Safe Schools will present School Safety After The Bell Rings. Critical incidents at after-school events are not a new phenomenon. While school shooting incident data often hit the media headlines, it is essential to note that the majority of school shootings occur at much higher rates outside of the building. Joey highlights the high-impact incidents, but also addresses the attention that must be given to the wide range of more commonly occurring incidents, such as fights, weather-related events and medical emergencies that occur during events. The bottom line, the school’s responsibility to provide safe learning environments continues well beyond the end of the school day.

Only $225 includes lunch both days and a networking mixer/vendor reception on Monday evening.

Who should attend?:  School administrators, school counselors, safety and security coordinators, teachers and school security personnel (SROs, SPOs, & SSOs).  Law enforcement, treatment and recovery professionals, corrections officers, adult and juvenile probation officers, parents, pastors/clergy, coaches, community-based program staff and volunteers, etc. are also encouraged to attend.

Special room rate of $159.00 per night King Suite or $169.00 per night Double Queen Suite for those attending the event. Hotel reservations must be received by 4/14/2023.

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