On October 9, the Quaker Valley School District re-advertised the position of School Resource Police Officer (SRO) online and elsewhere. This past August, I wrote about their efforts to find someone with the experience and temperament necessary to properly serve the diverse needs and complex situations present in the school environment.
After that post, I received an email from a candidate for the position who stated that he was “surprised” that no one had been hired from the initial group of applicants. He provided additional details about the extensive nature of the process:
There were approx. 50 applicants that applied. All applicants went through online testing, and the pool upon completion of this process was narrowed to approximately seven who had a first interview on or around June 23. At least three had a 2nd interview on July 30.
The final three…met with three boards (A teacher / administration board, a police chief board, and a student board). There was also a written response to a hypothetical situation.
I made additional inquiries at that time to QV’s Communications Director, Tina Vojtko, who put me in touch with the new Assistant Superintendent, Andrew Surloff.
Contacted at the beginning of October, Mr. Surloff initially stated that the process was still in place, with applicants evaluated in the spring still being considered. I then shared with him what I had been told about the process, along with some concerns about the seemingly inordinate length of time that had transpired to get the new officer on board. Mr. Surloff’s reply was frank and comprehensive:
Seemingly, such a process would not seem to necessitate so much time. However, one delay was the significant changes to our administrative team. Those hires were critical and took precedence over the SRO search process. That said, we’ve been through several rounds and processes and have yet to be successful in reaching consensus on a finalist. We need to ensure that your faculty, administration, students, local law enforcement agencies, and school board all feel as though we’ve been able to find the person to best serve in this role. To date, we have not been able to finalize that.
Mr. Surloff also stated that a couple of finalists were not successful in the “final round” of the process. Considering the process up to this point, I have to wonder what that final round might consist of. Walking across hot coals? Or worse, a role-play scenario with a screaming parent?
Mr. Surloff concluded his remarks by stating, “We are committed to getting the right person to serve our schools and keep them safe“. Considering the bureaucratic calisthenics that have been going on so far, I believe him. Whomever is eventually hired will have been vetted and evaluated with vigor and diligence rivaling a Cabinet position.
A review of the job listings today shows the position no longer advertised. Mr. Surloff stated in an e-mail that “We plan to screen the next group this week or next“. If the previous process is any indication, could it be well into next year before the new officer is on board?
Let’s hope it’s worth the time and effort.
That review of the district’s job listings also revealed a position whose vacancy was somewhat unexpected – the Director of Communications. An attempt to reach Tina Vojtko via her district email was replied automatically with “Please note that I have accepted a position with the Moon Area School District“.
Sure enough, Ms. Vojtko was on the job last Thursday when the [Allegheny Times reported] on the Moon district’s response to a harassing Twitter account. Ms. Vojtko’s work life will be a lively one over there, considering the district’s dispute with the Moon Transportation Authority and the beginnings of merger discussions with the neighboring Cornell School District.
In terms of the day-to-day operations at Quaker Valley, both of these positions share the same “crucial” label that has been previously applied to the Officer position. The Resource Officer is the district’s tangible face of safety and preparedness, while the Communicator is the one who assures that the district’s message is articulated, and its reputation properly managed.
Considering the amount of time being spent on securing consensus from different stakeholder groups within the district about potential candidates, as a citizen with relevant experience I feel that I am justified in weighing in with a few thoughts about both of these jobs:
- Transparency – In my roles as a public safety professional and as a parent, I have personally witnessed multiple attempts to convey information to police and others about potential emergency situations in schools in such a way as to prevent students, parents, and especially the media from finding out about them. Communication is not aided or embellished when affronts to transparency, accountability, and citizen awareness exist because of the operating philosophies of school district administrations. It is made even more difficult when public safety and other government stakeholders are complicit in those efforts to keep the daily, seemingly ‘routine’ problems quiet and hidden. That being said, I must recognize the willingness of QV Assistant Superintendent Andrew Surloff in communicating that nature and status of their process. His candor and accessibility is much appreciated.
- Coordination – Communication is nearly always identified as a key improvement issue in the planning or functional exercise of safety or emergency plans, or when reviewing actual incidents in an attempt to improve response.
Once a School Resource Officer is on board at Quaker Valley, he/she needs to directly interface with area law enforcement and other public safety responders as a matter of routine response to everyday incidents. This includes those who function as the first level of coordination and information management – the dispatch center.
Doing an ‘end around’ the dispatcher reinforces practices and attitudes that will not serve anyone well when the real emergency arrives.
In 2013, Quaker Valley licensed several radio frequencies to aid in their own resource coordination, and may be in the process of building their system out. Included with this build-out may be equipment to assist local police and fire agencies with communication inside school buildings.
This will hopefully reinforce the concept of interoperability and unified command with all involved stakeholders, and thus bring to life what is too often lost in a dust-covered binder until needed in haste.
Best wishes to Mr. Surloff and his staff for a smooth and successful recruitment process.