#schoolsafety | Sandy Hook Promise Program: A School Safety Coordinator’s Viewpoint

Auburn City Schools implemented the Sandy Hook Promise program this year and its safety coordinator recommends others do, too. Here’s why.

We believe that all people have the right to be and feel safe. This is the third “Statement of Belief” in the Auburn (Ala.) City Schools Strategic Plan where I am the safety coordinator. Each day, I am charged with upholding that statement of belief. Recent years have seen great improvements across our district in the way of physical security upgrades. Visitor management, access control, and increased SRO presence all reflect Auburn City Schools’ commitment to the safety of staff and students.

But, feeling safe is an altogether different level of safety. It speaks to the culture in our schools and extends well beyond door locks, access cards and security cameras.

In Nov. 2018, I was privileged to attend a conference session with school system leadership, including our superintendent, where the featured speaker was Nicole Hockley, co-founder of the Sandy Hook Promise program.

Nicole lost her son, Dylan, in the Sandy Hook tragedy on Dec. 14, 2012. She spoke passionately about the Sandy Hook Promise program, a non-profit organization dedicated to engaging schools in a spirit of shared responsibility for the safety of all students and staff. It emphasizes the fact that school violence is preventable if we know the signs.

Nicole spoke specifically about the anonymous reporting system, which allows reporting from students in an effort to prevent safety issues that may occur on a school campus. As Nicole finished her presentation, our superintendent looked at me and said, “I want to do this.” In that moment, Auburn City Schools took an actionable step towards strengthening a culture where all persons on our campuses feel safe.

As with the successful implementation of any program, buy-in from leadership is vital. This extends beyond your own organization and to the community partners with whom relationships are so vital. To support our efforts, the Auburn Police Department provided unwavering support and resources when it came to the implementation and ongoing success of the program.

The key to the reporting system lies in the promise of anonymity for the reporting party, which is strictly adhered to and can only be breached through a court order. Auburn City Schools has a one-to-one iPad initiative, and the Sandy Hook Promise application was placed on every student’s device once the program launched. This guaranteed that all students, regardless of any financial barriers that may personally exist, have access to the application.

Students may anonymously and electronically report an issue, regardless of perceived severity, to a trained counselor employed by Sandy Hook Promise. The dialogue between the reporter and the counselor is visible to myself, district administration, and the school safety team, which includes the campus school resource officer. This real-time ability to have an entire team view an issue allows for swift action and, ultimately, resolution.

In addition, if a student provides a tip deemed to involve “life safety,” Sandy Hook Promise will immediately call, text and e-mail district administration in order to expedite action. This level of notification extends beyond business hours and is available 24/7.

Auburn City Schools students and staff have already benefitted greatly from the program, as a number of potential safety issues — many that would have been otherwise unknown — have been dealt with in a manner that continues to build a culture of feeling safe.

While this may sound like an attractive option for your district, we all know budget restrictions play a major part in the implementation of any new program, even one related to safety. So, how much does it cost? Nothing. Read that again. There is no cost for the trainers to come train your staff, the implementation of the program, or the ongoing support.

How is it that such a valuable tool, capable of saving lives, can be provided at absolutely no cost to the end-user? To me, it all boils down to that day I heard Nicole speak. I left her session and immediately knew she was the embodiment of one of my favorite Jon Gordon quotes: “There’s nothing more powerful than a humble person, with a warrior spirit, who is driven by a bigger purpose.”

Sandy Hook Promise is driven by a bigger purpose, dating back to that fateful day in 2012, and we are now safer for it.


Chris Hardman is the safety coordinator for Auburn (Ala.) City Schools, serves on the state’s School Safety Task Force, and is currently pursuing his Ph.D. in Adult Education at Auburn University. He is also a certified yoga instructor and father of three. 


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