As local officials contemplate what to do to enhance school security, a DeKalb County High School student says he is a believer in the School Resource Officer (SRO) program.
Jordan Wilkins, a DCHS eleventh grader and non-voting student representative of the school board, said school security is very much on the minds of his fellow students, especially in the wake of the school shooting incident at Newtown, Connecticut in December. "They (students) are worried about it and since Newtown I've heard a lot more people speak up about it, especially since it got so close to us (recent on-line facebook threat) at Warren County," said Wilkins. "If you've got somebody there to protect you you're going to feel safer. People do feel the need to have an SRO here," he said.
"When you're at school, you're there a lot longer than you are with your families sometimes during the week," said Wilkins. "He (SRO) is somebody you can go to. If you have a problem with anything you can go to Officer (Kenneth) Whitehead (at DCHS) and he will help you in any way he can. There are some things you might tell him that you wouldn't tell a regular police officer. You learn to have a connection with him. Its good to have him there. He helps us out in any way he can," said Wilkins.
DeKalb County has only one SRO officer (Kenneth Whitehead) and he is assigned to DeKalb County High School. The position is funded by the county through the sheriff's department budget and he is employed by the sheriff.
During the February school board meeting, Dr. Gayle Redmon, Principal at Northside Elementary School, admonished the board members to work toward funding an SRO position at each of the five schools in the county.
Director of Schools Mark Willoughby said he likes the idea of expanding the SRO program but it needs the support of the community. "An SRO is not just a police officer at school and its not just a police car at school. I don't think we will ever know how important those police officers are in the school. Not only do they help take care of problems at the school, its also the relationship they have with everyone at that school. If there is something going on they hear about it. We hear the words "street smart". Well if you are an SRO officer you are "student smart". They know what to pay attention to and what not to pay attention to. I feel that if we did not have an SRO at the high school, we would probably have more problems. Students know what is important to tell (an SRO officer) and what shouldn't be told. They're probably not going to tell anybody about somebody cheating on a test. But if there is something serious that comes in, students want to take care of their school. They have ownership in the school. At DeKalb County High School, that relationship they have with officer Whitehead, we would like for that relationship to be developed at other schools," said he said.
Third district school board member Kenny Rhody said he believes the SRO program works well and has made a difference at DCHS. "I supported it when Vice Principal David Gash was our SRO officer. He (Officer Whitehead) has quelled so many things that have come about that you don't hear about. There might be a student who will come up to him and say ‘you might need to check a locker over there'. They will tell him things. He'll have information coming from every direction and he's very intelligent about going through it. He picks up those pieces of advice, I'd say on a daily basis and that helps avoid a bigger problem," said Rhody.
Other measures are already being taken to beef up school security, according to Willoughby. "We have had someone come out and go through the schools and study about the bricks and mortar and how we can make our schools safer. If you have been in some of our schools lately you'll notice that there are new locks on the doors, electronic locks and latches. Those things are happening right now but as time goes by technology will get cheaper so we are hopefully going to be funding some things that will make our schools safer in this next year," said Willoughby.
The board of education had intended to host a workshop on school security this week but that has been postponed until after the high school basketball tournaments involving the DCHS Tigers.
Director Willoughby said the workshop will soon be rescheduled and city and county leaders along with law enforcement authorities will be invited to attend to provide input. "When we have this meeting we would like to invite all the county commissioners, the mayors of Alexandria, Liberty, and Dowelltown, County Mayor Mike Foster, the sheriff, and the chiefs of police in Smithville and Alexandria. Of course, it'll be an open meeting for anyone who wants to attend. When we know where we are on the basketball tournaments, we'll be able to set a date that will hopefully be good for everybody who is concerned and wants to be involved in helping make those decisions," said Willoughby.