Chiefs for Change, a bipartisan network of state and district education leaders, today announced the launch of an initiative to make America’s schools safer for children, teachers, and all those on campus. With the unspeakable tragedy in Uvalde, Texas, weighing heavy on chiefs’ hearts and the nightmare of school tragedies playing out on a regular basis in communities across the nation, members of the network are determined to drive meaningful change now.
Participants in the new Chiefs for Change School Safety Cohort oversee systems that collectively serve more than 290,000 students and employ nearly 40,000 staff across approximately 500 schools. Cohort districts are:
- 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
- Tulsa Public Schools in Oklahoma
Chiefs’ teams will partner with leading experts from Safer School Solutions to strengthen campus security policies and practices and improve accountability around the steps schools take to keep people safe. Chiefs for Change will then work to scale the most effective approaches so schools are better equipped with the strategies and tools they need to help protect children and staff.
The initiative leverages data and technology to identify security gaps and potential solutions; implement comprehensive practices; track whether safety protocols are being followed; and immediately address any issues at the individual campus level and/or district wide. Members of the cohort will use a cutting-edge EagleEyED technology platform to outline a variety of physical security and cybersecurity tasks that district and school-based administrators can assign to designated employees on their campuses.
These tasks could include verifying that:
- Security cameras and video management systems are in working order.
- Protocols for locking doors and checking in visitors are followed throughout the school day.
- School resource officers (SROs) are at their duty locations on time and for the duration of their shifts, for districts that have SROs.
- Emergency drills are conducted with regularity during varied times of the school day.
- Facility infrastructure like fences, locks, and windows are routinely inspected.
Designated campus employees will use the system to document whether established protocols are being followed, giving principals and district staff the most current picture of the status of the security at each campus. Issues are tracked until they are resolved or mitigated. Those that are not addressed in a timely manner activate follow-up alerts. Administrators are able to view the up-to-date status of tasks. This allows districts to assess areas of strength for each school, identify any gaps, and quickly implement needed solutions.
“In our country, we have experienced mass shootings in schools, grocery stores, and, recently in our city, on a beloved hospital campus,” said Deborah Gist, superintendent of Tulsa Public Schools. “Americans must urgently do more to prevent gun violence. With national experts and my colleagues from Chiefs for Change, our team in Tulsa is studying leading safety practices and is implementing those practices in ways that will continue to improve the protection of our precious children and team members.”
The School Safety Cohort held its first scheduled meeting last week, just moments after the shooting occurred in Uvalde. During the current phase of the work, Safer School Solutions is reviewing each district’s existing safety and security policies and protocols and developing tracking templates districts can use to improve fidelity of implementation.
“When Chiefs for Change surveyed the members last fall, chiefs said their top priority was creating safe and welcoming schools,” said Chiefs for Change Chief in Residence Robert Runcie, the former superintendent of Broward County Public Schools in Florida. “Some of us have directly experienced the pain of a school shooting in our communities. It never goes away. Schools must be safe so kids can learn and teachers can do their important work. Through this new cohort, Chiefs for Change will strive to identify the most effective policies and processes, and will then share those approaches far and wide.”
The founder and CEO of Safer School Solutions, Brian Katz, previously worked for Broward County Public Schools. He was hired after the 2018 tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and led a new division focused on safety and security. Katz was a security director for Google focused on protecting staff worldwide, has provided security consulting and support for Fortune 500 companies, and worked as a federal agent for the U.S. Department of State.
“Chiefs for Change members oversee school districts and education systems in urban and rural areas,” Katz said. “Through the School Safety Cohort, we will help these leaders and their teams collect data so they have a clearer understanding of what is happening across their districts: What are the security policies already in place? Are there any gaps? Are there additional steps teams can take to verify that processes are followed? When districts analyze their policies and look at the data, we can gauge potential risks and deploy resources, personnel, and funding appropriately. We want districts to make data-driven decisions, which will ultimately make schools safer through accountability.”
Members of the School Safety Cohort will convene on a regular basis to discuss the progress in their districts. The group will also develop resources that other K-12 systems can use to improve their security protocols. Since the launch of the cohort, additional members of Chiefs for Change have expressed interest in participating in a similar group. The network is exploring opportunities to expand the school safety initiative and to partner with those who are committed to reducing violence in our nation’s schools.
“School shootings cannot become normal in America,” said Chad Gestson, superintendent of the Phoenix Union High School District. “These senseless acts must stop. One life is too many. We have to find a solution.”