Cleveland Security and Community Responsibility: The Principal Speaks

Principal JoAnn Wadkins discusses all of the ways the school is exploring to keep students safe


Clarion photo Kamakila Waiwaiole

Principal JoAnn Wadkins at her desk.

Reflecting on the events of Dec. 12, 2022, and the shooting outside of Franklin High School on Jan. 7, 2023, The Clarion reached out to principal JoAnn Wadkins to hear about what has been done and will be done to improve safety and security at Cleveland.
Wadkins, midway in her third year as principal, said the school uses an array of security measures such as a security fence and gated entrances, additional police patrols, security agents on campus, and some cameras at the school entrances.

The gates restrict outside access to the east wing, the portables, the loading dock, and the gym side. The gates are monitored by administrators or security before school and during lunch, and then are locked. Students must enter through the main front doors, which are monitored visually by the school secretaries.

After the Dec. 12 shooting, Wadkins said she requested additional patrols before school, throughout lunch, and as school let out.
Cleveland has two cameras by the front doors (one internal, one external), and one by the gym that shows the gated entrance. Students, parents, and administration are in agreement that cameras would improve student safety and provide a more comfortable learning environment.

The 2020 school bond that passed was meant to help fund safety upgrades across PPS campuses. And according to Wadkins, Cleveland has benefitted from the bond.

“That’s actually what helped to fund the gates that have just been installed. But we are slated to be in the first round of schools that are going to get camera upgrades. Some of them will be interior and some of them will be exterior,” Wadkins said.
When that will happen, administrators are unsure. Already, administrators have gone through two walk-throughs with workers to prepare for camera installations inside and outside of the school, Wadkins said.

One message Wadkins had was for students who open outside-leading doors for other students. Those doors, such as at the end of the east wing, can be used for exits but are locked for entry.

“We want to have doors. We actually don’t want students to open doors for other students. If you open a door, all of a sudden, streams of people can come into a building. Be mindful of not propping doors, not opening doors for other students; we are there to let you guys in,” she said.

She emphasized that all restrictions and protocols at Cleveland are built on the foundation of compassion.

“Hearing from your peers, and understanding why we follow the rules that we follow, you might understand everything more. I always want to approach something from the perspective of the deep care that the staff has for students, and I know that you have a deep care for each other. That’s really what I want to call on: we have a deep care for each other,” Wadkins said.

Wadkins said she was “deeply saddened” by the gun violence affecting our youth and that there needs to be “a concerted effort within the community, the city, and schools, to address the increase of gun violence in Portland.”

“If you think that the way you should respond in the world is by using a weapon, there’s some trauma behind that,” Wadkins said. “So one of the things that I’m encouraged to do is work with community partners, like nonprofits, to engage all our young people in things that are positive and proactive. That’s why I really encourage students to get involved in some way. Join a club, connect with adults in the building, and connect with each other, because the bigger circle of care that you have, the safer you are.”

Wadkins sees a key partner in the neighborhood community in keeping Cleveland a safe space for all students.
“I have felt–as a principal–that the community members feel comfortable contacting me about their concerns. So, I have a particular neighbor that when they see graffiti on the wall around the parking lot, always emails me the pictures, and they’ll let me know what’s going on. We want to be good community partners, I want people to feel it’s fine to live around our school. And I feel like the community thus far has been really open about sharing their concerns, so we can work with them,” she said.

When asked if she believes that Cleveland is a safe space, Wadkins said, “I hope [this] doesn’t sound cavalier, but life inherently carries risks. I mean, I personally have been hit by a car on my bicycle. I still ride my bicycle. I want to say that–unfortunately–bad things can happen in many different places. But I think at Cleveland High School, I feel that the CSAs, my administrative team, and the support that I’m getting from the district, make me feel that when you come here, we’re going to work 150 percent to keep you safe.”

***A word from JoAnn Wadkins: Safe Oregon tips are anonymous, they come directly to all the administrators at the school, and we have to deal with them within 24 hours. We read them and we figure out if there is some substance for us to investigate. Let’s be careful about what we’re sharing, because [rumors] can increase fear and re-traumatize, be mindful because they can cause additional harm.