Look, on your smartphone! It’s an anonymous reporting tool. It’s an emergency operations planner. It’s a school safety audit program. It’s a drill tracking program.
It’s School Safety Tracker, a program developed by the Texas Region 20 Service Center in San Antonio and offered free to schools throughout the state.
Aubrey Independent School District, under the leadership of Superintendent Debby Sanders and Police Chief Scott Collins, recently started using the system that Collins dubs “a four-in-one value” for the school district located in a town of less than 3,000 residents.
“We look at it as a way for students to report incidents in a timely manner. In today’s world, students use their smartphones all the time. And this is an app they can put on their phones and actually use,” Sanders says. “By using School Safety Tracker, we hope that we can avoid incidents on campus, whether it be drugs, bullying or something else.”
“Students don’t want to call 800 numbers anymore. They want to use their technology,” Collins says. “And overall, it’s very thorough and it’s very practical. It’s just an easy way to keep track of everything in one place, and there’s a tremendous savings on paper costs as well.”
Collins explains that students or parents can download the app to their smartphones or tablets and use it to submit tips anonymously. The tips come to his office, and he reviews them and distributes them to the district’s high school, middle school and two elementary schools as appropriate.
“All tips come to the chief, who then sends it to the principal of the appropriate campus. If the tip is a concern about a serious emotional issue, it will go to the counselor who can start an intervention. If a small child says a fifth-grader is bullying him on the bus, it will go the principal and the bus driver,” Sanders says. “Obviously — and we hope we don’t have this — if somebody is selling drugs, we will involve the police. If the report happens to be an emergency situation, we won’t just send an email and hope somebody sees it, we’ll follow up with a phone call.”
Communication with users of the app works both ways; the school district can use it to send push notifications to all registered users about weather-related school closures or planned fire drills. (Texas school districts must perform fire drills every month, along with tornado drills and other safety-related drills.) School Safety Tracker keeps tabs on all of them, allowing for easy review by the fire marshal and administrators. It also keeps track of medical information for the district’s approximately 2,200 students, bus routes and other aspects of Aubrey’s emergency operations plan.
“We can take our tablets out in the event of an emergency rather than lugging a big book around. Administrators and teachers can pull the plans up on their phones or tablets wherever they are, and that’s a huge safety deal when you’re evacuating kids,” Collins says.
Using School Safety Tracker to do required school safety audits is another “huge deal” in savings of time and paper: “You’re required to do a school safety audit every three years using an extensive set of forms from the Texas School Safety Center. With this app, we can do these audits on a tablet and it keeps track of everything for us. Before, we had to fill out 17 sheets of paper per school, so it’s a huge savings in paper as well as time,” Collins says.
And Sanders adds that in addition to the required tri-annual full report, the safety audit function allows school districts to input ongoing timely safety updates: “If you’re walking around and see something that looks unsafe, you can put it in the system at that moment. You don’t have to wait for the three-year audit.”
But even with all of School Safety Tracker’s other useful aspects, in the end it’s the reporting function that proved its biggest attraction to Aubrey ISD.
“The obvious first draw in signing up for the app is the students are always on their smartphones, and with the app, we can get kids more involved in keeping themselves safe,” Sanders says. And Collins adds, “This makes my job easier because I can’t be everywhere at once. This gives me lots of eyes and ears in the community.”