First Person Singular: Chris Tippins, safety and security specialist, Annandale High


(Photograph by D.A. Peterson)
May 16, 2013

I think some kids see me and think, Oh, it’s Mr. Tippins. He’s kind of a hard---. But I think I’ve changed since I took this position. I’ve got a bigger heart. You have to be stern and firm, but you also have to be fair and listen. Especially in a school as diverse as this one, you don’t know where every kid is coming from. Some kids don’t have as it as good as others, and when they get in trouble, often there’s a reason. They need a little direction.

Was I a perfect student? No, and I tell the kids that. I was not taking things seriously. I would skip class, play video games all afternoon with my buddy, not do my work — just dumb, lazy stuff. I turned it around, though. Senior year, I was failing a class, and that was my wake-up call. I had some help, but nothing compared to what kids have now with guidance counselors and support. For a lot of students, this might be the most schooling they get. So they need to get the most out of it. I think a big part of my job is making that possible.

My number one job is: keep this school safe and secure, so kids can come here, get the education they need to further themselves and make it in the world. I’m always watching, always on alert. I don’t have a police background. What I do have is the desire to listen and to learn — from my supervisors, from teachers, from kids. I can’t do this by myself. The entire staff has to have their eyes open.

After Sandy Hook, everyone was on edge. The following week was tough. I did think, What would I do? But I think that every day. My office door is open every day. Our school office is open. Someone could walk right in and get three rounds off. That’s why everyone has to have that sense of urgency.

The biggest misconception is that we’re out to get kids. I love it when I search a locker and don’t find anything. I don’t like finding things on kids. I want them to succeed, but I want them to know there are consequences. The thing is, there are rules and laws you have to follow. And when you leave here, there’s no hearing office; there’s no assistant principal. It’s you and the law. It’s the difference between right and wrong. That’s what it comes down to at school, at home and in life.

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