This past February, I detailed some of the changes in the offing for Quaker Valley Schools as the 2013-2014 school year was moving toward a close.
The new artificial surface at Chuck Knox Stadium was installed in late June and early July. It is a decided improvement over the previous surface – there is a definite grass-like feel and cushioning that will no doubt be welcomed by athletes, marching bands, and citizens alike.
Another nice touch is what isn’t there – the end zones are plain green, without any adornments such as the mascot name emblazoned in large, pretentious block letters. The only decoration is the school district logo at midfield.
The new surface appears to be a quality installation that speaks to both safety and fiscal responsibility.
There’s a new Superintendent who is a familiar face, riding on a reported groundswell of community support and a reputation for reaching toward compromise. As efforts quietly begin to build toward planning to do something of substance with the high school, this will be important as stakeholders with their own points of view, from concerned taxpayers to adjacent property owners, will undoubtedly be watching and taking action.
The new school year is in its infancy, and already in a nearby district the youngest of students has brought a gun to an elementary school.
As reported in February, QV’s Resource Officer, Robert Wright, retired at the end of the last school year. A review of School Board meeting minutes since then has failed to show any action to hire a new officer. I inquired of QV Communications Director Tina Vojtko as to the status of the recruitment, and what contingencies were in place to provide officer coverage at the high school. She replied:
Attached please find documentation regarding the district’s agreement with the Leetsdale Police Department. This arrangement will continue until a school resource officer is hired and on-staff.
I do not have a projected hire date for the school resource officer. The school resource officer position is crucial. What’s more important is finding the right school resource officer for QV. We are re-advertising the position in order to extend the applicant pool. Until the position is filled, our local police departments will continue to provide assistance.
I confirmed this with Leetsdale Police Chief James Santucci, who added that an agreement was also in place for a police presence at other Quaker Valley facilities by the respective agencies (Edgeworth, Sewickley) that serve where those buildings are located.
I’m curious as to what the district believes is the “right” kind of resource officer. Having known Bob Wright since before I left the area in the 90’s, I know that his shoes are difficult ones to fill. His personality and disposition seems to suit the nature of the job, and he was also a part-time officer with a local department.
That kind of legacy shows to me that not every police officer has the necessary skill set to excel as a School Resource Officer (SRO). According to a guide to establishing an effective SRO program published by the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, there are eight essential criteria for the selection of an SRO:
(1) likes kids, cares about and wants to work with kids, and is able to work with kids;
(2) has the right demeanor and “people skills”, including good communication skills;
(3) has experience as a patrol officer or road deputy;
(4) is able to work independently with little supervision;
(5) is exceptionally dependable;
(6) is willing to work very hard;
(7) is—or can become—an effective teacher; and
(8) has above average integrity.
While it’s unknown what exact criteria Quaker Valley is using in their selection process, chances are it’s something approaching the above. It’s important to note that the QV officer can function independently of local police, and can write citations and file criminal complaints. So within those legal requirements, QV can place greater emphasis on criteria that they value more when considering potential candidates.
Despite these differences, the arrangement works for most of those agencies with a stake in the process. A 2012 report by the National Association of School Resource Officers (NASRO) stated the following:
The successes of interagency collaboration, in all of its applications, are well-documented, including its downstream effect on reform in other areas of law…The school safety team is an object lesson of this collaborative approach. By now, all 50 states as well as local authorities authorize–and often mandate–a version of the team approach to insure that public schools are safe, secure environments where educators can teach and students can learn.
A check of the Quaker Valley job listings page does not show the position advertised as of the date of this post. It’s possible that the district may be using other job listing services, including those that focus on public safety and police employment, to get the “right” kind of applicant pool together.
Unfortunately, in some districts these criteria may also include the officer’s ability to function effectively in an atmosphere where politics or intransigence may trump common sense – witness the incident in South Fayette earlier this year. This dovetails with misapplied confidentiality rules that are too often used to suppress effective and appropriate citizen awareness of school district operations.
In some cases the school itself is left out of the loop. The recent firing of a security guard at Franklin Regional High School, who distinguished himself during the mass stabbing incident in April despite being himself stabbed, has school district officials feeling blindsided, and the Robinson-based private security firm that fired the guard hiding behind some stone walls of its own.
Effective communication and/or cooperation is not aided or embellished when barriers to transparency, accountability, and citizen awareness exist. It is made even more difficult when public safety and other stakeholders are complicit in these efforts.
A culture of secrecy and subterfuge infects the body and soul of an institution like nothing else can, and is even less appropriate in an environment where education is supposed to be taking place.
I’m hopeful that Quaker Valley will find an excellent individual to serve as its Resource Officer. The extra time taken to do it, and the cooperative effort with local police to assure that adequate security is being provided in the interim, will hopefully pay dividends in enhanced understanding and effective coordination when needed.
I also hope that Dr. Ondek extends her stated commitment to accountability beyond the educational process, and into how a school co-exists with a community during the best and worst of times.
Have a good Labor Day weekend.