How an Outsider Transformed a School District’s Security Structure
Kevin Wren’s determination and versatility helped him change the way a city approaches school security.
In 2013, Kevin Wren stood in front of the Board of Rock Hill Schools and held up a picture of a local high school football team in a huddle.
Wren, the district’s newly hired director of risk, safety and management, was trying to explain the importance of teamwork and drilling to board members. It was a creative way for an area outsider to make a point in a region that’s widely known as “Football City USA.”
“As he presented his plans for an improved emergency response system, he used a team analogy,” Rock Hill Deputy Superintendent Anthony Cox explains. “He said, ‘You don’t play a game without practicing, right?’ And that flipped a switch for board members to think of safety as more than just collateral.”
At the time, Wren was just three months into his role as the district’s security manager and he knew he’d have to speak the local language if he wanted to implement a series of ambitious overhauls during his tenure. A light had gone off for Wren when he attended his first football game at Rock Hill, which attracted more than 6,500 fans and was aired on ESPN.
Rock Hill Schools Profile:
Rock Hill Schools is a district covering 180-square miles of York County, South Carolina. The district has a current enrollment of 17,998 students, making it the eleventh largest school district in the state.
The student population is socio-economically diverse, with most students qualifying for free or reduced lunches. In addition, 52 percent of students are racial minorities and 14 percent receive special education services.
Rock Hill has 42 sites, including one preschool, 17 elementary schools, five middle schools, three high schools and three district administration locations.
The district doesn’t have a police department, instead relying on ten school resource officers, eight of which work for the Rock Hill Police Department and two that work for the York County Sheriff’s Office.
“I was very surprised the first year I showed up,” Wren remembers. “You have to cater your messages to every group.”
The presentation to the school board exemplified a skill that Wren has proven adept at: an ability to relate to people, from students to city counselors, in order to get his message across and his goals accomplished.
Wren reasons he developed that kind of adaptability during his years working as a police officer and a school resource officer, first in North Augusta, Georgia, then in South Carolina at Mount Pleasant and Charleston.
“As an SRO, every time you turn around you have to change your body language and how you’re speaking. It just comes from dealing with students and parents and administrators,” Wren says. “You learn what to say and how to say it pretty fast.”
That versatility is also a skill that has proven vital for a Georgia-native in a city with few strangers, and it’s a big reason why Wren has been named Campus Safety’s K-12 Director of the Year.
Inspired to Serve
Originally from Augusta, Ga., Wren credits his parents and an especially passionate SRO he had in high school for getting him interested in public safety. That SRO, Lewis Blanchard, is still so close with Wren that he recently shared an old photo of Wren at the age of 15 in the local sheriff’s office doing drills to celebrate Wren’s 40th birthday.
“Watching [Blanchard] growing up and the things he did for students was just unbelievable,” Wren says. “He had a passion for school safety and really taught me what it means to protect kids.”
After becoming a field training officer out of college with the North Augusta Department of Public Safety, Wren voluntarily took a demotion to fill an SRO position when one opened up at North Augusta High School.
“I’ve always known I wanted to work at schools,” Wren says. “You ask any new officer why they joined the police force and they’ll say they want to help people. So I say, ‘All right then, where are you effecting change the most: Arresting the same crackhead on the street every week or going into the schools and mentoring kids and getting their lives on the right track? That’s what it boils down to for me.”
After getting married, Wren moved to the Mount Pleasant Police Department and then worked for the Charleston County School District for ten years. Tragedies Wren witnessed in Charleston, including seeing a student die in front of him after being shot, have further motivated him to push through bureaucracies and improve schools’ emergency preparedness.