When Huntley Community School District 158 in Algonquin, Ill., first started using its new student safety management platform, it didn’t know quite what to expect. “We didn’t know what we were going to get,” said Chief Technology Officer, Chris Budzynski, Ed.D. “We were shocked at the sheer volume of conversations that were taking place among students on email.”
Those emails were mostly innocent, ranging from “Hey, where’s the party this weekend?” to “Where can I buy the best hair products?” Then one day Gaggle picked up on some inappropriate content on a student’s Google Drive account. “We called home and his parents were incredibly thankful,” stated Dr. Budzynski. “They were unaware of the issue and thanked us for having this system.”
Having a safety management platform in place—and the parents that support it—is important at Huntley, which encompasses nine schools and nearly 10,000 students. Using Gaggle since the 2016-17 school year, the district has a 1:1 device program for all grades. “Gaggle really helps with the 1:1 device usage management,” Dr. Budzynski continued, “and especially in light of the fact that we’re sending devices home with such young students.”
Dr. Budzynski noted that the district began shopping for a safety management platform when it switched over to using Chromebooks (it previously used Android tablets). “These devices are capable of doing so much more than what we’re even using them for,” he added. “We just were uncomfortable with what could be potentially happening.”
Feeling responsible for giving students the ability to communicate and to have access to one another 24/7, the district wanted to ensure that it wasn’t putting students in a place where they could expedite dangerous situations. That “unknowing” prompted Budzynski and his team to run through a few worst-case scenarios.
“Consider this: If a student were to email someone else about their own thoughts of self-harm or other potentially dangerous situations, we would be alerted to that and act immediately. Without this system, that’s a scenario we wouldn’t necessarily know about.”
Fortunately, Huntley has yet to find itself in the position of having to intervene in a serious case involving a student email. However, there have been several instances where students have plugged their personal mobile phones into their Chromebooks for charging, only to have that device “grab everything off the phones and store it on their Drives,” said Dr. Budzynski.
“It’s usually a lot of selfies, but we’re alerted if Gaggle flags them as inappropriate,” he continued. “The majority of alerts are actually from files that are synchronized to the students’ drives from other locations. That caught us off-guard a bit; we weren’t expecting that.”
The district has asked local police to conduct well-being checks on students outside of school hours. “It’s hard to say that danger was imminent,” Budzynski stated, “but we’ve been close enough after getting a Gaggle alert that we didn’t risk getting any further along in the process.”
To manage the alerts, Huntley routes the most minor infractions (profanity in an email, for example) to the appropriate building administrator. Situations that would be considered a potential student situation (i.e., inappropriate content, drugs, alcohol, violence, harassment, etc.) are distributed to a team that includes both district and building staff members.
“Every one of those alerts goes to the principal and either the building’s assistant principals or associate principals,” Dr. Budzynski explained. “They make sure that nothing gets through without somebody being aware of it.” Dr. Budzynski also receives those alerts, as does the district’s chief security officer and associate superintendent.
With protecting students as a top districtwide priority, Huntley can now quickly intervene in serious situations while also handling minor incidences quickly and seamlessly. “If we can put a speed bump in the way of a student who is doing something inappropriate online,” said Dr. Budzynski, “then that puts our students in a much better, safer position overall.”