Book Review

When a School Crisis Occurs: What Parents and Stakeholders Want to Know

by Helen M. Sharp, Rowman and Littlefield Education, Lanham, Md., 2006, 94 pp., $17.95 softcover

As experienced superintendents know, anything can happen at any time on any given day. Whether the incident is a personnel problem, a school safety issue or a complaint from a parent or community member about a practice or policy, it is imperative that system leaders are able to communicate clearly, concisely and effectively with only a moment’s notice.

In When a School Crisis Occurs: What Parents and Stakeholders Want to Know, Helen M. Sharp, an education writer, provides a valuable resource for both new and experienced superintendents and other school administrators. The book begins by examining the potential ramifications of not communicating or communicating ineffectively when a crisis occurs. Sharp then offers a format for constructing a districtwide crisis communication policy using a format that addresses purpose, audience, tone, style, emphasis and the school’s goal.

The largest portion of the book describes 30 types of school crises and suggests responses based on the format she presents. An example of each crisis and a sample response are provided, along with an explanation of why that particular response was the most appropriate. The examples include both common situations such as inclement weather, school safety and student behavior on buses, as well as those scenarios we all hope will never occur.

Obviously, no book could cover every potential crisis. However, this one does contain enough variety from which a superintendent could draw to develop timely, effective responses to any crisis and audience, even if the reader had to consult multiple examples.

Effective use of Sharp’s ideas can enhance the perception that school leaders are on top of things.

Reviewed by Lyle C. Ailshie, superintendent, Greeneville City Schools, Greeneville, Tenn.