SALAMANCA — Amidst the increase of school shootings across the country, the Salamanca City Central School District recently hired a third school resource officer (SRO) in order to have one present at each district building.
At last week’s Board of Education meeting, the three SROs talked with the school board and meeting attendees about the program, their role in the schools and what they hope to accomplish in the upcoming school year.
In his three years as an SRO in Salamanca, Officer Jim Winters, who is in the high school, said it has become the proudest moment of his career.
“The satisfaction I get out of doing my job in the high school,” Winters said, comes from the “connections I can make with the kids and the changes I can see in the kids.”
As a part of the Cattaraugus County Sheriff’s Department SRO program, Winters said he and his colleagues take a lot of pride in the role they serve. He said he believes it’s one of the best SRO programs in the state.
“We have other agencies coming to us, asking for advice and seeing how we’re presenting the program to the schools,” he added.
Winters, who is an alumnus of Salamanca High School, said he knows many parents of students he is there to protect, which helps deepen that connection.
Additionally, Winters started the school’s archery and trap clubs. In the archery club’s first year, he said three students competed in the nationals in Kentucky. Since then, both clubs have been growing in popularity and attendance.
“We’re grateful for the school and board’s support of that,” he added. “I look forward to many more years here, as long as you’ll have me.”
The most recently hired SRO, Officer Steve Dombek, works out of Prospect Elementary. Dombek said the district’s decision to have a third SRO gave him the opportunity to do something he’s always wanted to do.
Hired in June, Dombek said he only had two weeks with the kids before summer break, and he did his best to work with Principal Gayle Pavone and make those two weeks count, including a summer safety program.
“I knew I did what I could to make myself visible in that school when I was walking around it, walking in it and walking to the classrooms,” he said, “just to be visible with the kids and talking to the kids, and everyone has treated fantastically.”
Although he knew what being an SRO could include, it wasn’t until being in the job that Dombek said he realized how rewarding it was. He said the kids treat him like a “rock star,” often asking for high-fives, handshakes and autographs.
“It’s gotten to a point that I’ve been able to work with some of the kids who were deathly afraid of law enforcement,” he explained. “The reward that I got from just those two weeks, I can’t wait for September to actually go a full year and see what more I can get into.”
WORKING IN the district for five years, Officer Jim Bean has been there the longest and currently works out of Seneca Intermediate School. Although originally from Olean, having a family with many teachers has made Bean feel at home in Salamanca schools, he said.
“It was nice to come in and know how to be around teachers and what they expect you to do when you’re in their classrooms,” he said.
During the upcoming year, Bean said he hopes to do more programs with the kids, such as internet safety. He said teaching pre-teens and younger teenagers how to be smart online and how to responsibly interact with others on the internet safely is important.
Additionally, Bean said he’s thankful to the district and board for allowing the officers to give their input on the safety decisions of the school.
“That’s paramount for our job: the kids and the safety,” he said. “We know we may not go home at night, but the kids will. That’s why we’re here, to teach them right from wrong and to keep this school safe.”
Having such a great program that other SROs from across the state come to Cattaraugus County to model what they’re doing is one of the best compliments they get, Bean said. He said each officer has their own strengths and backgrounds and everyone can learn from each other to make the program better.
“It’s going to be huge for the kids,” he added. “I can’t wait for this next school year to start.”
Before the officers spoke, District Superintendent Robert Breidenstein introduced them, additionally thanking the Board of Education for supporting their support of the SRO program.
“To the best of my knowledge, we’re the only school district in Western New York that has certified school resource officers that are all active members of the sheriff’s department,” he said.
Years ago the district had one SRO through a partnership with the Seneca Nation and county, Breidenstein said. Since then, the district expanded it to two officers and then most recently three officers in June.
“Expanding that to three is something I think we can be proud of and something we should celebrate,” he added. “There are many districts that have school resource officers, but not one in every building that I’m aware of, so we are very fortunate.”
(Contact editor Kellen Quigley at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter, @Kellen_Quigley)