Albemarle County Public Schools is rebuilding a program aimed at increasing school security. Starting this year at Walton Middle School, students will see another authority figure in the halls: police officer Ron Davis.
Davis, an Air Force veteran in his sixth year with the Albemarle County Police Department, holds the first School Resource Officer position to be filled since the 2008-9 budget cuts that ended the program at the middle schools. All of Albemarle’s high schools have an SRO, as do all of Charlottesville’s high and middle schools.
The full-time, $80,000 per year position is being funded jointly by the School Board and Albemarle Board of Supervisors, each contributing $40,000, schools spokesman Phil Giaramita said. The County plans to place an SRO in each of the four other middle schools over the next four years.
“I thought it would be interesting to catch children at a young age and to show them that we’re not here to hurt them, we’re here to help them,” Davis said about his decision to become an SRO. “I want to have positive interactions with the students each day.”
While Davis has completed an SRO training in which he learned how best to interact with adolescents as well as engage an active shooter in the building, Giaramita says that there are other aspects to an SRO’s job.
“The officers have the opportunity to develop a personal relationship with the students, and the students have the opportunity to see the SRO as a resource,” Giaramita says.
“These kids are going through a lot of changes in their lives dealing with peer pressure and whether to choose the right path or the wrong path,” Lieutenant Tim Aylor from the Police Department’s Community Support Division says. “We’re hoping that having that officer there to have that role-modeling and that mentorship can set some of those at-risk kids on the right path.”
But some members of the community question a police officer’s presence in the schools.
“I have heard some people being concerned about SROs in the schools and that it sends the message that we’re bringing in heavy enforcement because we can’t handle school internally, but that’s a misunderstanding,” Sutherland Middle School Principal David Rogers says.
“In my experience, that’s not even remotely near the work that they do,” Rogers says, adding that the SROs he’s known have been easy to work with and tend to defer to school administration in order to work in partnership.
Each relationship between an SRO and a school is different, Giaramita says, noting that principals involve officers in various types of programming, and Walton Principal Alison Dwier-Selden hopes Davis can teach students about internet safety.
“We spend a lot of time teaching children about appropriate uses of the internet,” Dwier-Selden says, “but I’m looking forward to having a law enforcement officer assist with that and [help us with] some of the mistakes children make along the way with their social media.”
Davis says he’d be willing to teach science students how to lift fingerprints and to discuss legal and citizenship issues with civics students, but his first goal is to update the school’s security plans.
“My goal within the next year is to revamp the safety and security plan as far as procedures within the schools,” Davis said.
Giaramita said the decision to place the officer at Walton was based on geography and not the discipline and leadership complaints the school faced last year.
“Walton is a bit further away from some of the high schools where we already have school resource officers,” Giaramita said. “And we were hoping to have a school resource officer presence in the southern part of the County.” Davis will also make visits to the elementary schools in the County’s southern feeder pattern: Red Hill, Scottsville, and Yancey.
Dwier-Selden is glad Davis in on-board and sees the relationship as a natural fit.
“The police are guarding a society and we’re raising children who are part of a society and who are going to be, we hope, significant contributing members,” she said, “so I see it as one more adult helping shape children to be citizens.”