By Sara Tischauser
Finding the best way to protect students and help students solve problems in their lives is exactly what Seymour Community School District (SCSD) and the Seymour Police Department are striving for as they are moving forward with an Educational Resource Officer (ERO) position.
On Aug. 28, the Seymour School Board approved adding the ERO position to the agreement between the police department and SCSD. The new position will be 24 hours per week and the ERO will have an office at either the Rock Ledge Primary or Intermediate School.
“This position will be located in the elementary schools and be focused on the educational and support aspects of school safety,” said Laurie Asher, SCSD superintendent. “It will allow the ERO to be involved in an informal way with students and staff during times like recess, lunch, classroom activities and build a natural climate of collaboration. The job description for this position is evolving and will allow us to add a variety of educational programs as they fit with the needs of our students.”
Police Chief Rick Buntrock said this position has been in the works for a while and has evolved from many conversations with other police chiefs and discussions with the school to see what the best way is to help solve problems. Buntrock said this position will really allow the ERO to get to know students and become a person the students can trust and go to when they are having problems.
“Educational resource officer seemed like it would be great concept, establish relationship [with students],” Buntrock said. “Ultimately my concern as police chief, we have to be an integral part to solve problem with children.”
T.J. Hilgenberg, investigator with the Seymour Police Department and assigned as the school liaison officer, said that while in his position he has some positive educational experiences with the students this is not what he is always able to concentrate on. He said the ERO position will allow that officer to strictly work on the positive aspects.
“The goal of the position is to be a very positive experience,” Hilgenberg said about the ERO position. “When [I’m] scheduled to do positive events/activities I can get called away. At times I get pulled because I have a problem at another school.”
This is where the ERO position will differ from Hilgenberg’s position, because the ERO will stay with the students and not be called away to cover incidents with other students or schools. The entire goal of the ERO position will be to have a positive impact on the students.
“To be preventative, proactive and protective,” Asher said is the goal of the ERO position. “The ERO will be present with students which will help build relationships with students and their families. By them being present on a regular basis, they will get a sense of the climate, what is going on in the school and community. This will allow them to be proactive in addressing things before they become much bigger. Lastly, having an ERO in the building will allow us to have a law enforcement presence, [this] offers security for both our students and community.”
Buntrock said with this position, they hope to really open the lines of communication with the children and build trust with students, parents and the community. He said this position is really proactive and works to find the root of problems before the problems become bigger.
Asher agrees that building that trust and improving relationships is a plus of this position. While there is a monetary cost for having the position ($18,848 per year), Asher said the benefits out way this cost.
“We realize that early and proactive approaches not only help build a strong foundation of skills for students but in the long run also saves money,” Asher said. “Our district has been working to balance our academic support with our social emotional support for all students. We realize that students need to feel safe at school before any academic learning can take place. Our staff has done a great job of building relationships with students and we feel this is another adult that our students will be able to connect with at school. The ERO officer will also be present in the community during the school year as well as the summer. This will allow students to reach out to them all year long.”
Finding the right person for the position is important for everyone involved. Buntrock said he will give full-time and part-time officers time to apply for this position. Then Buntrock will recommend to the committee his top officers and together with the committee they will find the best officer.
“Our goal with the school district and our partnership is to get the very best person to integrate with our students,” Buntrock said.
Asher agreed filling this position will be a joint effort.
“We will be working with the Seymour Police Department to find a person for this position,” Asher said. “We realize that the selection of this person is important due to the fact [ERO] is working with our youngest students.”