As we enter another school year, school safety is undoubtedly top of mind for everyone.
In the wake of recent tragedies, concerned parents and students want to know what schools are doing to keep them safe—and they want a louder voice in those conversations.
At the School District of Osceola County, Fla., school leaders sought a better way to give students, parents, and staff a voice in school safety as part of its strategic plan and commitment to improving customer service.
The district used K12 Insight’s Let’s Talk! to create its Keep Osceola Safe portal, an online space where community members can ask safety questions and report bullying, threats, or acts of violence.
Making school safety part of the customer experience
Located in central Florida just below Orlando, the School District of Osceola County and its surrounding community are experiencing rapid growth. As part of a district-wide commitment to creating a strong customer experience, Superintendent Dr. Debra Pace and her team knew they needed to focus on the school environment.
“With school safety and security being top of mind and a top priority for our district—like with every district—we needed to have a reporting system,” explains Dana Schafer, the district’s public information officer. “People needed to feel comfortable reporting any threat or act of violence that they became aware of.”
The district was already seeing success from using Let’s Talk! to streamline community feedback and customer service and saw an opportunity to use the solution for safety as well. As Schafer puts it, “Because our community was already familiar with Let’s Talk! and we were training our staff to use the tool, it made it easy and natural to have it serve a safety function as well.”
A back-end dashboard provides district leaders in real time with trends and key metrics such as the number of inquiries, average response time, and customer experience score to help district leaders understand and measure progress.
A special Critical Alerts feature makes it possible to flag messages that include potentially troubling keywords, such as “bomb,” “gun,” or “suicide,” and fast-track those messages for immediate review and investigation.
Let’s Talk! also makes it easier for school and district leaders to collaborate within and across teams to ensure a timely, appropriate response.
“We’ll get bullying messages from parents reporting something that happened with their child,” shares Heather Kahoun, the district’s community relations specialist. “Our district bullying coordinator will work in conjunction with the area superintendents, school principals, counselors, and others to quickly address those concerns.”
Similarly, safety concerns are automatically routed to the district’s safety and security team, which can then collaborate internally and externally with the appropriate law enforcement agency to investigate the threat and determine the best course of action.
A solution students can trust
With Let’s Talk!, students and others can reach out 24/7 from their favorite device. Just as importantly, they can decide whether to submit anonymously or share their contact information, which Schafer says helps community members feel comfortable using the tool.
“Even if it’s anonymous, we want community members to say something,” she says. “This really has allowed us to stay in front of—and take proactive measures when—security issues happen.”
Schafer recalls a recent incident in which the district, particularly the safety and security team, was especially grateful to have such a tool in place.
“This past school year, a student made a specific threat of violence to a middle school and a fellow student reported it,” Schafer shares. “Upon investigation by law enforcement, it was determined that the student was in a downward spiral and was in desperate need of mental health help, which was immediately provided.”
Turning rants and raves into responsiveness and trust
By using Let’s Talk! to ensure school safety and improve the customer experience, the district has been able to create a positive school culture based on trust.
One way they are seeing this play out? Rumors about the district have dropped, especially on social media forums like the Osceola Rants and Raves Facebook group, where parents share what they’ve heard about the district.
As Schafer puts it: “We want our community to know that if there is something they need to know, then we are going to tell them and they are going to hear it directly from us — not on some Rants and Raves page from someone else. Having that trust really helps us manage communication through a crisis.”
For Dr. Pace, this proactive approach to school safety is invaluable. “As we all know, school safety and security is on everyone’s mind when you’re in the field of education today,” she says. “We have had far less disruptions to our school days through lockdowns and those types of things—as well as callouts because of random social media posts—than ever before, because we’ve been able to use this tool to be proactive and get in front of potential threats or issues on our campus.”
For more on Keep Osceola Safe and the district’s commitment to a strong customer experience, watch our recent webinar with leaders from Osceola.