March 04, 2013

Director of Maintenance and Grounds
Keller ISD, Texas

Lessons of the 1937 Texas School Explosion
Healthy Schools Hero 2013 Inspiring Nominee 

“…no compromise when it comes to student safety”

“John is available 24/7, participates in conference calls and monthly meeting with area facility directors. He is always looking for opportunities to identify and share best practices and processes in playground safety… John has taken personal and professional responsibility for the safety of children; provided leadership at local, state, and national level and is always available to help anyone.” -- Read Roger Young's nomination.
John Gann’s leadership in playground safety derives from his extraordinary sense of responsibility.  Coming from a long career in construction where safety was the #1 priority, he brought his dedication to safety and a love of kids to a new career in school facility management.  

As Keller ISD’s Director of Operations and Grounds he is responsible for the safety of 33,000 students -- pest control, lawn care, playgrounds, IAQ, HVAC, electrical, plumbing, general maintenance and repairs for forty buildings and fifty-two playgrounds.  An active member of the Texas School Business Officials Maintenance and Operations Committee, he is a popular expert speaker on playground safety.

Over six years ago, when John saw kids getting injured on playground equipment and hurt in falls on compacted dirt surfaces, he took a class and got certified in playground safety. And, today, four of his maintenance staff have taken a three-day playground safety certification course.  

John believes you don’t have to be assigned to be vocal about safety. When he visits other districts for meetings or conferences, he speaks up if he notices something they need help with -- pest control, playground hazards or IAQ.  He advises taking broken equipment out of service until it can be repaired or replaced.

When he was appointed School IPM Coordinator John got IPM training from Texas AgriLife. With the power of education, John worked to change the school culture. “Young teachers, especially, are not aware of laws and regulations,” says John. “And they are not aware of the hazards of common pesticide products.” He educates staff about preventing pest problems by cleaning classrooms of food and clutter, keeping doors closed, and getting rid of cans of pesticide spray in their closets. His pest management program has reduced district costs from $90,000 to $10,000.

Like most states, except for California, Texas has no playground safety law. John observes that most of the 1100 school districts officials don’t know what Texas codes require. And he knows that just knowing the codes, rules or standards alone doesn’t necessarily make a playground safe enough for children.

When John looks at a playground he evaluates all types of hazards. He doesn’t like surfaces from ground up recycled tires. He uses certified clean wood chips not treated with chemicals. He is particularly attentive to equipment design so it is sized right for the specific age group. He has worked with architects to make sure platforms and other features are the appropriate height. He also knows that children will often do things on play equipment that designers didn’t anticipate.   

John is successful talking to people one-to-one and face to face showing how much he sincerely cares about making things safe for kids. Because of his reputation and his extensive professional networks, John also gets several calls a week from principals who trust him to answer questions and help make purchasing decisions. If John can’t make a site visit he will ask for photos.  

When a child in Oklahoma was killed in a school playground accident a couple years ago John saw a photo of the school equipment and recognized the hazard. He called the district and offered to help figure out what they needed to do to make it safer. And they called John back.

Link to Nomination