Ed Clarke started his career as a Montgomery County police officer. Twenty-four years later, he retired as a police captain and took a job with the county’s school system, overseeing security in the same schools he attended as a child.
Clarke started in school security in 2000, not long after the massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado. Soon, safety issues were spotlighted again in the wake of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the Washington-area sniper attacks of 2002.
With those experiences in his background, Clarke was recently named executive director of the Maryland Center for School Safety, which was created by state lawmakers after the December 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. It was one of many efforts nationally to boost safety after the tragedy that left 20 children and six school staff members dead.
The new center is intended to be a community-wide clearinghouse for school safety, with a Web site of resources and best practices. It will work with schools — public, private and charter — to assess data, building layouts and security improvements and offer supports.
Clarke says the tragedy in Connecticut, like those before it, spurred a deeper look at both threats and safety practices in schools.
“I certainly think Sandy Hook moved things forward, not only here in Maryland but around the country,” Clarke said. “It forced us to take a step back and say, ‘Are we collectively doing as best we can? What are the best practices, and are we implementing them?’ ”
Clarke said the center’s view of safety goes far beyond planning for potential violent attacks. The center will focus on emergency management, bullying, substance abuse and mental health and generally take a preventive “all-hazard” approach.
“We want to be on the front end of hopefully identifying students who may be in crisis and pose a threat to themselves or others in the school community,” Clarke said.
Clarke, 60, of Olney remains active in the county he has called home all his life. He left the school system in 2006, when he ran an unsuccessful campaign for sheriff, and went on to work as a school safety consultant.
He has been active in a Montgomery effort to increase the number of school resource officers in high schools. His own children, who attended Montgomery schools, are now grown.
“I think he will do a great job,” said Montgomery County school board member Michael A. Durso, who sits on the center’s governing board. “Ed is one of the few people, in my opinion, who understands law enforcement and school systems. Usually, you have people who know one but not the other.”