As principal of Tavasci Elementary School I am considered the instructional leader, guiding the staff in the education of all our students. A second very important responsibility is the safety of everyone at school.
We have been communicating with the Cottonwood Police Department for several years about the possibility of obtaining a resource officer for our campus.
Tavasci is in a precarious position because, although the school sits within the Cottonwood city limits, ALL the students live in the county. So depending on the situation, it is sometimes unclear who we should be communicating with and who to ask for help.
Last spring, our staff was made aware of the Department of Education School Safety Program Competitive Grant. Every school in the state of Arizona was invited to apply and each application was scored independently. The Arizona Department of Education reviewed each application using a scoring rubric to address the need for law related education. The purpose of the program is to place a resource officer on school grounds to contribute to a safe school environment that is conducive to teaching and learning. It is difficult for children to learn effectively unless they feel safe. The officer's main functions are to be a law enforcement officer, a law related counselor and a law related educator in promoting good citizenship. He works in collaboration with the school and the community as a resource.
We wrote our grant proposal, as did Cottonwood Elementary, to share the resource officer with each other. We were lucky enough to have been awarded the grant but all the logistics have not been ironed out yet. We will share his expertise just as neighboring schools have done for us for 4 years. He will be teaching "law related education" to students and staff throughout the school year, based on the results of a needs assessment. Criteria used to determine the needs were local crime rates, a parent survey, school crime statistics, discipline and suspension data, attendance information and a staff survey.
Major problem areas identified through the school's needs assessment were bullying, threats and intimidation, disruptive classroom behavior, and significant vandalism. Sitting at the edge of the city limits as Tavasci does, vandalism appears to be a growing concern on campus. We have experienced many incidents over the past year. Two areas of concern shared on our parent survey were low school/home/community connection and a negative perception of law enforcement.
The State's guidelines on the use of the resource officer are very restrictive. We will follow the requirements carefully and the officer is also required to complete daily activity logs and follow through with regular reports and assessments.
In addition to the law related education, he will be very visible on campus ... in classrooms, on field trips, on the playground and in the cafeteria. This is the perfect opportunity for students to gain an increased level of trust and respect for law enforcement.
Students will get to know "the person behind the badge." The school resource officer's presence will make a big difference to students and parents.
If students feel safer in school, this will enhance the learning environment and will make the learning experience a positive one. We want students making safety conscious decisions and showing personal responsibility and good citizenship.
The Tavasci staff is grateful to Sharon Block, counselor and Patricia Winters, school secretary, for the development of this grant. In preparation, they attended grant training and provided detailed supporting data to complete the grant successfully. We are committed to facing school safety challenges head on and collaborating with the district at large for the benefit of all our students.
Sandy Huson is principal at Tavasci Elementary School