By Greg Mellen
Mike Beekman has been in education for 36 years and in that time seen a seachange in the field. This is particularly true in his specialty, which is safety and student services. In recent years, few issues gain more attention than school safety and safety from violence.
“I spend 80 percent of my day with crisis management,” said Beekman, the retiring Executive Director of Safety and Student Services for the Capistrano Unified School District.
Beekman wears many hats, overseeing district student records, discipline, attendance and chronic absenteeism, environmental safety, drug use, abuse and awareness, emergency preparedness, and other issues and policies. But all those have been subsumed by the threat of campus shootings and gun violence, which have come to dominate headlines.
On a recent day, Beekman was on the phone with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department assessing the most recent threats until 10 p.m. and was back at it at 6 a.m.
“It’s not 9 to 5. You are constantly responding as things pop up,” Beekman said. “We have to rule out threats.”
In almost every school shooting and instance of domestic violence or terrorism, there are signs and warnings.
Capistrano Unified School District has an admirable system of threat assessment. However, as Beekman says, “You just can’t get complacent. Even if 90 percent don’t lead to anything, it just takes one.”
Beekman also stays busy on other safety issues that are far more prevalent than guns. For example, this year he arranged to have Narcan/Naloxone, the nasal spray that can save people who are overdosing on opioids or drugs laced with fentanyl, on all district campuses.
He also made sure AEDs, or automated external defibrillators, are on all campuses in case of cardiac arrest.
Under his direction, the school district created a new safety policy and permitting process for e-bikes.
And then there is ongoing training and preparedness for disasters such as fires, earthquakes and floods, which Beekman says propose a much greater threat than guns to student safety.
He is also in charge of discipline, another area that has undergone seismic change during Beekman’s tenure.
“The philosophy when I started was zero tolerance,” Beekman said, describing a time when being caught with a beer outside a prom was grounds for immediate expulsion.
“That was excessive,” he said. “There was no juvenile drug education.”
In the current climate, schools seek “other means of correction,” Beekman said, which involve “balancing the needs of the individual with the school.”
These help ensure students receive mental health support, positive behavior intervention and supports, and multi-tiered intervention, rather than one-size-fits-all discipline.
Also in Beekman’s milieu are Student Placement, Student Records, and Child Welfare and Attendance procedures (including School Attendance Review Boards).
“It’s a lot of ground to cover,” Beekman says.
After graduating from the State University of New York, Lake Oswego, with a Bachelor of Science in Technology and Industrial Arts in 1984 (he later earned a Master’s in Education Administration from Pepperdine), Beekman began his career at CUSD. He was a teacher for 10 years, became a site administrator, and has been in the District Office since 2006. Before moving into his current position, he was Director of Child Welfare and Attendance.
No escaping gun violence
CUSD has never had an on campus student death linked to guns.
“Shootings are so prevalent on the news, communities are hypersensitive,” Beekman said.
With heightened awareness, the hope is such events will not happen again. That’s where threat assessments can make a difference.
Beekman has worked closely with Orange County’s nationally recognized School Mobile Assessment and Resource Team (SMART). Launched in 2001, the SMART unit conducts 300 threat assessments annually across the county as well as responding to incidents related to violence, threatened violence, and suicide in K-12 schools.
At a School Safety Summit, O.C. Sheriff Don Barnes said SMART had thwarted “Columbine-like” plans, and Beekman says that is not hyperbole. Beekman has also been a reservist with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department for 30 years, currently as a Commander.
Beekman also works with the Orange County Intelligence Assessment Center (OCIAC), to conduct threat assessments on campuses and recently contracted with Knowledge Saves Lives to present site-specific training across the district.
His last day on the job will be June 30.
After that, he retires, and Beekman said he has no grand plans.
“I have a son in high school, I want to watch him play and do what retired people do,” he said.