January Community Game Changer
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MSU Denver criminal justice alumnus John McDonald is director of security and emergency management for Jefferson County Schools, Colorado’s largest school district. Photo by Mark Woolcott

MSU Denver alumnus raises the bar on school and student safety
By Doug McPherson

John McDonald (B.A. criminal justice ’92) says growing up he always wanted to be a police officer. And he did that—for a while. But bigger things were in store for him.

“I’ve been blessed with opportunities in my career, but I’ve always felt the pull to come back to public safety,” McDonald says.

Since graduating from Metropolitan State University of Denver, he’s served a Fortune 100 company as a senior security manager, planned safety for the 2002 Olympic Games in Salt Lake City, Utah, assisted with security operations for both the Democratic and Republican national conventions in 2008, and helped lead relief efforts for U.S. natural disasters.

Then, six years ago, an opportunity came along he simply couldn’t pass up: to protect what he calls our most precious resource—children.

The job? Executive director of security and emergency management for Jefferson County Schools, the largest district in Colorado with 155 schools across 789 square miles. It’s a job weighted with massive responsibility: the safety of 85,000 students and 14,000 employees.

And in the job McDonald has raised the bar on school safety. He’s credited with transforming the district’s safety department with state-of-the-art work in active-shooter training and emergency preparedness, and leaders in security dub it a national model. In fact, after the Sandy Hook tragedy, he was invited to the White House to share his ideas on making schools safer.

In 2010, the Colorado Association of School Resource Officers named McDonald School Security Director of the Year for his work during and after the Deer Creek Middle School shooting and the U.S. Department of Education officially recognizes him as a subject matter expert in school safety.

McDonald says some in the security industry believe security can’t be measured. “That’s absolutely wrong. You measure it by asking your customers how they feel about their own safety.”

That’s exactly what he did. The year he started at JeffCo, 67 percent of students said they felt safe in schools. Today, that number stands at almost 90 percent.

Susan Payne, executive director Safe2Tell, a nonprofit that offers students a way to anonymously report concerns, says she’s grateful McDonald is where he is.

“John’s commitment and dedication to his work has set the highest of standards in school safety,” Payne says.

For McDonald, it’s all in a day’s work. “Our community understands far too well the impact of violence,” he says. “I hold a strong belief in the duty to protect. Doing this job is both an honor and a great responsibility.”

Content Provided By Metropolitan State University of Denver

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November ’13: Faculty Member April Hill
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December ’13: Alumn Jeff Martinez
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April Community Game Changer ’14: Jonathon Stalls is starting a revolution at 3 mph
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July Community Game Changer ’14: Miss Native American USA inspires the next generation
August Community Game Changer ’14: Assistant Director and MSU Denver alumna Pamela Osborne helps students prepare for college through MSU Denver’s High School Upward Bound program
September Community Game Changer ’14: Biology student helps restore and protect Lower Bear Creek
October Community Game Changer ’14: Dave Montez leads the charge for LGBT equality and opportunity in CO!
November Community Game Changer ’14: Michael Wray, Food for Thought-Denver and MSU Denver sack youth hunger
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