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City schools to receive state funds for new SRO
Officer to be placed at Albert Harris

Tuesday, June 18, 2013


Martinsville is among 24 Virginia localities that will receive state funds for a new School Resource Officer (SRO) position, thanks to a grant approved last week by the Criminal Justice Services Board.

Martinsville Public Schools and the Martinsville Sheriff’s Office partnered this spring to apply for the competitive grant, which will fund most of the cost of an SRO position for Albert Harris Elementary School in the upcoming school year, according to a release from the school division. The exact award amount was not available Monday. The grant is renewable for up to three additional years, the release said.

The school system and Martinsville Police Department currently share funding of two SRO positions at Martinsville Middle School and Martinsville High School, but this is the first time a full-time SRO will be designated for the elementary level.

“First and foremost, student safety is our number one priority,” Superintendent Pam Heath said in the release. “We are always on the lookout for grant resources to enhance our school safety initiatives, and this was a great opportunity to expand our partnership with local law enforcement and leverage state resources to benefit our community.”

“We’re excited for the opportunity to partner with the school system on a very important position for Albert Harris,” Martinsville Sheriff Steve Draper said in the release. “It’s an opportunity to do things collectively, save costs and still provide this vital service.”

T.J. Slaughter, the school division’s School Safety and Dropout Prevention Coordinator, said, “We are very grateful to the Governor’s Office and the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice for this opportunity. We look forward to our partnership with the Martinsville City Sheriff’s Office and are grateful for the working relationship we have with all of our local public safety officials.”

Filling the position will be Lenny Noel, a former Sheriff’s deputy with 21 years of experience in Norfolk and Martinsville as a juvenile and district court bailiff. Noel retired from the Martinsville Sheriff’s Office at the end of 2011 to accept a grant-funded position as School Safety Counselor for Martinsville City Schools, but will return to uniform in his role as SRO.

Noel’s position primarily has been based at Albert Harris Elementary, although he has worked with students from other schools. In his time with the school system, he has started a mentoring program for elementary and middle school students; spoken to students about safety, the law, and making healthy choices; and dealt with truancy and behavior issues.

“Lenny’s a perfect fit, with the law enforcement experience he had in Norfolk and all the time he spent here” as a deputy and then working in the schools, Draper said.

Slaughter, who has worked closely with Noel since he joined the school system, said, “Lenny knows the staff, he knows the students, he’s worked with the families. He’d just be a natural fit as the SRO. He can hit the ground running and continue the work he’s started.”

The goal of SRO programs is not only to maintain safety and order on school campuses, but also to educate and counsel students in order to prevent crime, violence and risky behaviors. Adding an SRO at the elementary level will allow local law enforcement to start building positive relationships with students at an earlier age. The deputy will also work closely with school officials to develop policies and training that will enhance school safety and security.

“Going back to when I was a school resource officer at the high school, I have always felt the need for an SRO at the elementary level,” Slaughter said. “It helps build relationships with the students and their families.”

“A lot of times, just the visibility of that law enforcement officer to the children at that age — just to be able to see him and talk to him on a daily basis” is helpful and makes children more likely to come to the SRO to report problems before they escalate, Draper said. “We’re hoping they will personally connect with law enforcement, and maybe it will even get them to enter this field someday.”

A grant was not sought for Henry County Schools, said Melany Stowe, the school division’s coordinator of parent and community outreach.

According to the grant guidelines, “A police department, sheriffs’ office or school division may manage the SRO/SSO program but the grant application must be submitted by and the funds awarded to a unit of local government.”

The main reason a grant was not sought for Henry County Schools was that state funding would decrease each year of the grant while local funding would increase until the position would be funded totally through local funding, Stowe said. The grant covers only the cost of salary and benefits for the SRO, not such things as training and equipment, according to Stowe and grant guidelines.

Another reason the grant wasn’t sought is that the SRO must be assigned to one school, Stowe said. “As a system, there wasn’t a particular elementary school that stood out” as having a greater need than the division’s other nine elementary schools, she said. The division already has SROs for high and middle schools, she said.

“This grant didn’t meet the particular needs for our division,” Stowe said.


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