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6 Major K-12 Districts to Pilot Data-Driven Safety Program

Six large member districts of Chiefs for Change, a national network of education leaders, will work with Safer School Solutions to close security gaps through data-driven ideas and assigned tasks at school campuses.

school safety
In the wake of the horrifying massacre at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, last month, the renewed push for school safety has been of national interest. While Congress fights to even discuss changes to gun laws, with the knowledge that easy access to guns led to the shooting that left 19 students and two teachers dead, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit has turned to data and technology, partnering with a Florida-based software company to create safer school environments.

Chiefs for Change, a bipartisan network of school superintendents and state education leaders, last week launched an initiative with Safer School Solutions, a company founded in 2021 that uses data-driven evaluations to find security gaps in schools and create possible solutions. The initiative, created through a $1 million three-year grant, will connect Safer School Solutions with six large Chiefs for Change-affiliated school districts in different states, including Dallas Independent School District in Texas, Highline Public Schools in Washington, Oakland Unified School District in California, Phoenix Union High School District in Arizona, Poudre School District in Colorado and Tulsa Public Schools in Oklahoma. Using Safer School Solutions’ EagleEyED platform, each district will identify physical security and cybersecurity tasks and assign them to specific campus employees.

According to Safer School Solutions CEO Brian Katz, the platform was not created directly as a response to school shootings such as the one in Uvalde, Texas. He said this cohort had been in the works for months, but the shooting heightened the urgency. Before founding Safer School Solutions, Katz was hired in the aftermath of the 2018 school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School to enhance safety and security at Broward County Public Schools. He told Government Technology that responses to incidents like the one at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High and Robb Elementary often are focused on how to improve individual sites, but with Safer School Solutions, he wanted to take an approach that addressed all school districts — urban or rural — across the country.

“What we (Katz and co-founder and Chief Technology Officer Phillip Dunn) noticed is, in having conversations with other school districts, is this is a national and an international need,” Katz said, adding that the security concerns go beyond shootings. “So the two of us set out to try to build out something that was robust that school districts could use in this context for all of their safety- and security-related policy and procedure, tracking all of those elements all in one place.”

Among the tasks addressed in the EagleEyED platform, which can be used on a desktop as well as a mobile app, are verifying whether security cameras and video management systems are functioning; if locking doors and visitor sign-ins are following proper protocols throughout the day; whether school resource officers have reported to duty on time; that emergency drills are held regularly; and that infrastructure at each school site is inspected routinely, among other things. Katz said that if, say, a gate lock is broken, a task will be created and someone will be assigned to fix it, thereby shoring up security and creating better accountability at school districts.

During the initiative, Katz said that the cohort, which serves nearly 300,000 students and employs about 40,000 staff members across roughly 500 schools, will attempt to create a universal nomenclature for security measures to be used in the platform.

“At its core, it's relatively simple, because what we're doing is we're surveying people about their observations on various topics, but in a way where ultimately you're able to have somebody make their observations," he said. "Then you're also able to have third parties come in and make their observations so that we can actually marry those up to each other and make sure that what we think is happening at a location is what's happening in a location."

Katz said school districts will work with Safer School Solutions to set up access for administrators, with other district employees able to step into place when the main platform administrator is out. The platform also has push notifications to inform staffers of tasks that need to be addressed.

Tulsa Public Schools Superintendent Deborah Gist said that while the platform is straightforward, staff members received professional development to build their confidence in using the system and avoid human error.

“The use of this tool gives us a better ability to consistently track that all that is happening the way that it needs to, because our plans and our physical structures are only going to do what we need them to do if the human beings using the system are following them,” Gist told Government Technology. “This gives us the ability to monitor that and to keep ourselves on our toes when it comes to implementation.”

According to the news release, members of the cohort will meet regularly to discuss the progress at their respective school sites. Katz said that school districts own their own data, but they can trade ideas and share terminology and tasks to help Safer School Solutions continue building up its platform. The company will meet with individual districts as well as the cohort as a whole throughout the initiative, and it's currently in the process of reviewing each district’s safety and security policies and developing tracking templates for them to implement.

“We want to increase safety. While schools relatively are extraordinarily safe places, and these incidences are not common relative to the 16,000 school districts that there are across the country, they're devastating,” Gist said. “We have to do everything we can to make sure that our schools are as safe as they can possibly be.”

Chiefs for Change's work to address security issues is the latest of many proactive efforts to fill in gaps of service throughout the K-12 education system. Earlier this year, the nonprofit released a tool aimed at the mental health crisis and ensuring children who need support aren't overlooked.

Editor's note: A previous version of this story misstated the location of Safer School Solutions' headquarters. It has been updated to state that the company is based in Florida.
Giovanni Albanese Jr. is a staff writer for the Center for Digital Education. He has covered business, politics, breaking news and professional soccer over his more than 15-year reporting career. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Salem State University in Massachusetts.