Robert Runcie now leads the national group and security effort

Robert Runcie, whose tenure as superintendent of Broward Schools included the Parkland tragedy and a grand jury indictment, now oversees a national group of school leaders and a million-dollar project to improve school safety across the country.

Runcie is the acting head of Chiefs for Change, a Washington, D.C.-based education advocacy group made up of approximately 50 district superintendents and state education chiefs. The group was part of a school reform organization founded by former Florida Governor Jeb Bush.

The organization’s new initiative, led by Runcie, is a “school safety cohort.” Six school districts are paying $166,667 each to a company, formed last year by two Broward school administrators, to review safety plans and track compliance, records show. School districts are reimbursed by Chiefs for Change, which is funded by private donors.

The company, Safer School Solutions, is owned by Brian Katz, Broward’s former school safety and security chief, and Philip Dunn, the district superintendent. former chief technology officer. The company operates out of shared office space on Las Olas Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale, according to Florida Division of Corporations records.

The initiative consists of using the “EagleEyED” product, described on the company website as a “Safety and Security Risk Tracking System that Promotes Accountability in Your School District’s Physical Security and Cybersecurity Operations.”

Duties, according to the press release, may include ensuring security cameras are working, protocols for locking doors and checking in visitors are followed, school resource officers are at their assigned locations and that emergency drills are regularly carried out for varying periods. times of the school day.

“We will help these leaders and their teams collect data so they have a better understanding of what is happening in their districts,” Katz said in a statement. Chiefs for Change press release. “What are the security policies already in place? Are there any gaps? Can teams take additional steps to verify that processes are being followed? »

The goal is to help districts “make data-driven decisions that will ultimately make schools safer through accountability,” Katz said in the statement.

Neither Katz nor Dunn could be reached by the South Florida Sun Sentinel, despite calls to their cell phones. Runcie did not respond to repeated requests for comment. His cell phone went straight to voicemail when a Sun Sentinel reporter called. His attorney, Johnny McCray, also could not be reached.

The six participating school districts are in Dallas; Oakland; Phoenix; Highline, Washington; Tulsa, Okla.; and Powder, Colorado. The only known link between any district and Broward is Powder Superintendent Brian Kingsley, former principal and director of studies for Broward Schools.

“Some of us have directly felt the pain of a school shooting in our communities,” Runcie said in the statement. “It never goes away. Schools must be safe so that children can learn and teachers can do their important work. Through this new cohort, Chiefs for Change will work to identify the most effective policies and processes, and then share these approaches at scale.

Runcie led Broward when a former student killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland. Investigations by the South Florida Sun Sentinel and a state public safety commission identified numerous district failures related to the education and support services provided to the alumnus as well as high school services. lack of preparation for a school shooting.

Susana Cordova, assistant superintendent of the Dallas Independent School District, said the Chiefs for Change project is just one of many school safety initiatives in her district. She said there are lessons to be learned from those who have directly confronted a school shooting.

“Whenever a crisis occurs, it is important that everyone takes stock of what happened, both the positive signs and any areas of failure, so that we can detect them before another tragedy,” Cordova said.

The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission made many recommendations on ways to improve safety, but often criticized Runcie for being slow to make changes.

Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri told the Sun Sentinel this month that many issues, such as a refusal to share data with law enforcement and a reluctance to train staff on how to conduct proper threat assessments, were only resolved after Runcie left.

As for the new Chiefs for Change security initiative, Gualtieri said: “The goal seems laudable. Any comments should be about the people involved, and I’m not interested in going there.

Commission member Ryan Petty, who lost his daughter Alaina in the shooting, said Runcie was not qualified to lead the effort.

“I saw no signs that Mr. Runcie admitted his own mistakes or was willing to make any significant changes based on the findings of our investigation,” Petty said.

In February 2019, a year after the shooting, Runcie and the school board hired Katz to oversee security efforts. Katz had previously worked as an internal leaks investigator for Google as well as a special agent for the US State Department, but had no previous school experience.

He helped the school district implement the recommendations of a safety consultant and the commission. He expanded and reorganized the district’s security forces, using money approved by voters in a 2018 referendum. The second half of his 2½-year term was spent mostly on pandemic-related issues of COVID-19.

Katz applied to be acting superintendent in June 2021, but the school board declined.

A few weeks later, he quit his job and started Safer School Solutions with Dunn, who was the district’s chief technology officer. Dunn resigned in November 2021 after approximately two years on the district.

Why Chiefs for Change chose Safer School Solutions is unclear. Leila Walsh, spokesperson for Chiefs for Change, did not respond to repeated questions about the project.

Chiefs for Change began in 2010 as an affiliate of the Foundation for Excellence in Education, which was founded by former Governor Bush. It originally focused on supporting school choice and common core education standards, but its mission later morphed into developing a diverse, bipartisan group of leaders capable of tackling to a variety of issues faced by school districts.

The group split from the Bush organization and became its own nonprofit in 2015. A spokesperson for the Florida organization, now known as ExcelinEd, declined to comment on the Runcie’s new role with Chiefs for Change.

Runcie has served on the board of Chiefs for Change since 2017, according to tax records. The organization has published a statement of support for Runcie after a grand jury indicted him for perjury in April 2021.

“He has always shown himself to be a person of the highest integrity,” wrote then-CEO Mike Magee. “I don’t know the details of the allegations against him; however, I know he is a man of character with a strong moral compass. Chiefs for Change is grateful for Bob’s leadership and is proud to have him as a member of our community.

After Runcie realized he didn’t have school board support to stay long-term, he negotiated a $755,000 exit package and left in August, after current superintendent Vickie started. Cartwright.

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That same month, he began as “Chief-in-Residence” for Chiefs for Change, a part-time mentoring role given to experienced school district leaders, including former Palm Beach County Superintendent Donald Fennoy and the outgoing Orange County Superintendent Barbara Jenkins.

“They do not hold full-time positions at Chiefs for Change, but provide advisory support as needed to members of our network and our Future Chiefs leadership development program,” said Walsh, the spokeswoman for the Chiefs for Change. organization, at the Sun Sentinel in November. E-mail.

When Magee left in April to take up a position as president of Minerva University in San Francisco, the Chiefs for Change board appointed Runcie as an interim replacement. But the organization decided not to advertise it.

An announcement was made to members on April 18, but not to the public, and Runcie retained his “chef-in-residence” title. In a May 17 email to the Sun Sentinel, Walsh did not respond to questions about Runcie’s expanded role.

“Robert Runcie is not CEO or interim CEO. He is a chef-in-residence, not a staff member,” she wrote at the time.

After the Sun Sentinel shared with Walsh an email that Board Chairman Pedro Martinez sent to members of Chiefs for Change saying that Runcie will “manage day-to-day operations and oversee staff,” Walsh went on to say. confirmed Runcie’s new role.

“He remains chef-in-residence today. His title has not changed,” Walsh wrote on May 19. “You asked who is running the organization on an interim basis. As Chef-in-Residence, Robert does so while the council conducts a nationwide search for a new CEO.

About Jessica J. Bass

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