Everyone has had the experience of buying something that isn’t exactly what they wanted: The pants that need altered. The wallet that doesn’t have room for all the cards required by modern-day life. The car that was the right price, but the wrong color.
When it came to implementing an app that would allow students and the community to report school safety concerns, Henderson County Public Schools (N.C.) didn’t select a commercial solution that “sort of” met the system’s needs.
They created their own.
"Report It, Don't Ignore It," available free for both iOS and Android, allows users to report issues and concerns in eight different categories, and includes the capability to upload photos and screenshots. (Users can make reports anonymously if they choose to do so.) It also offers access to additional resources, including the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, the Henderson County Department of Social Services, and non-emergency numbers for the Henderson County Sheriff’s Office and Hendersonville Police Department. In addition to access through the smartphone apps, students, teachers and the community can find a link to “Report It, Don’t Ignore It” on the district’s and individual schools’ websites.
“Off the shelf gives you an immediate fix, but when we started looking at how to best serve the students and community over time, we realized that we need the flexibility of an app that we created and owned,” says Dr. John Bryant, associate superintendent for administrative services. “In the past, we’ve found that often an initial offering is great, but when our needs and wants change, it becomes very difficult to implement changes.”
The person who will implement those changes as needed also created and developed the app: Programmer Grant Adkins. The school system had previously hosted a subpage on the district’s websites to report incidents of bullying, and after the February 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, Superintendent Bo Caldwell tasked the IT department with coming up with an expanded app that would meet Henderson County’s specific needs. In addition to bullying, that includes making reports in the areas of drug abuse, fighting, personal crises, vandalism and weapons, as well as a catch-all “other” category.
“We started with an outline of what we wanted it to do, which included allowing individuals to report incidents of various types, rather than just bullying. We wanted to allow them to report threats about weapons, drugs and all of the other issues that affect school systems today. One of the big things we wanted it to do is upload screen shots from social media, because that’s how students communicate today. Adding anonymous reporting capability was important as well,” Adkins says.
Molly McGowan Gorsuch, public information officer for the school system, says that Adkins was very conscious of using language that all students, from elementary to high school, could understand, using student feedback to ensure relevance. Although elementary school students are not the primary target audience, they should be able to use “Report It, Don’t Ignore It” with perhaps some assistance from an adult, McGowan Gorsuch says.
In fact, students from two of the district’s 13 elementary schools are the first group of students to have a chance to use the app. Two Henderson County Public Schools elementary schools follow a year-round schedule, and the app launched in those schools with the start of their school year in early July. Although nothing major had surfaced by the end of the month, Adkins says the system did receive a few minor incident reports. (The system also includes four middle schools, four traditional high schools, one career academy and one early college program, for 13,500 students.)
“We want to know about and help any child who is facing a crisis. Although topically it is designed to appeal more to students, the app can also be used by teachers and community residents,” Bryant says. “We also wanted to make sure the concern is getting to the appropriate agency, which is why it starts off with links to additional resources rather than going straight to the topics. Seeing the resources first might make the individual realize that it might be local law enforcement, rather than the school system, that needs to know about a particular issue.”
The Henderson County Sheriff’s Office dispatch center also plays a key role in ensuring that reports that come in after hours receive prompt attention if they meet certain criteria. Such reports generate an automated alert to dispatch if they remain unopened for one hour, allowing law enforcement to respond as needed.
“We’ve had good feedback from local law enforcement and they appreciate being part of the effort,” McGowan Gorsuch says.
Bryant points out that the connection with the sheriff’s department is one of the key features that Henderson County could build into “Report It, Don’t Ignore It” because the school system didn’t go with an off-the-shelf solution: “One of the challenges when it comes to school safety is meeting the demand for immediacy. We were fortunate to have the skills we needed in house and the patience to go through feedback from parents, teachers and students to make the needed adjustments. All of this energy and effort created a product that is more meaningful and will effectively address our urgent safety concerns.”
Having been through the process, Henderson County Public Schools is willing to answer questions and offer advice to any other school system considering a similar solution.
“Our business in public education is to support each other and to learn from each other. We certainly welcome questions from anyone who wants to know more,” Bryant says.
To ask those questions, contact Molly McGowan Gorsuch at firstname.lastname@example.org. To view a video about the app that features student government leaders from the Class of 2018, go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OmAoAlcSGXk&list=UU85rwgj3Gs7shxqPiYt-B0Q