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New school resource officer in Spearfish enjoys beginning of school year

September 2, 2018

SPEARFISH — Jason Gellett said he was more excited to start the school year this year than ever before.

“I think that this is a phenomenal school district, and I’m really excited to be part of it,” he said in his office at Spearfish High School.

Not a student or teacher, Gellett, an officer with the Spearfish Police Department, was chosen in the spring to transition into the role of second school resource officer (SRO) for the district, joining Officer Candi Birk. The school district and city agreed to partner to fund the additional SRO position, with the school paying 75 percent and the city, 25 percent.

After a little more than a week with students in the classrooms, Gellett said he is enjoying his new position. With Gellett’s primary office in the high school and Birk’s in the middle school, the officers also have office space available in the elementary schools, and the department’s patrol officers are invited and encouraged to stop by the schools any time to increase visibility and get to know the students and staff.

Superintendent Kirk Easton said that one of the main benefits of having SROs in the school buildings is that the officers interact with the students, and having two officers provides an additional “set of eyes” to provide a different perspective on the district’s safety plan, drills, etc.

“We can look at something so many times from just an educator’s view,” he said, describing that it is helpful to have insight from law enforcement officials.

Birk and Gellett provided ALICE training, or active shooter response training, for the entire district, as well as substitute teachers, prior to the first day of school with students. ALICE stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, and Evacuate, and the classes provide preparation and a plan for individuals and organizations on how to more proactively handle the threat of an aggressive intruder or active shooter event.

Easton said that one of the district’s priorities this year is comprehensive school safety – so not only physical safety, but also social and emotional safety. He explained that each of the schools would come up with their own strategies to implement a common language across the grades. The curriculum is designed for K-8 and is something that teachers, counselors, and administrators can use.

“We’re excited about that,” Easton said.

The program is being piloted this year.

Last year, one of the district’s priorities was to implement a common assessment at the K-8 levels to provide a growth model assessment to evaluate students at the beginning and end of the school year to see their growth, see what areas the district need to improve in terms of instruction/curriculum, etc. The program was piloted last year and is in full implementation this year, with staff continuing professional development on the assessment.

The other priority, Easton said, is for the district to come up with a plan for how to deal with growth. While numbers aren’t showing as much growth this year, they are up 30 students in the district from last year.

Conversations about facilities plans, etc., will continue, and in the meantime, Easton is happy to have an additional SRO in the school buildings to allow students to see police officers and interact with them in a positive manner.

Gellett said that he hopes to get into the classrooms to increase the interaction with the students; he has been a DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program instructor for five years and knows many students in the district from that, and he explained that the SROs handle all the types of calls that involve students in the schools, which range from truancy calls to reports of drugs or violence. The officers also provide follow-up at the school for calls not directly related to the district but that impact students, such as a parent getting arrested, etc. They also liaise with other agencies, such as the Department of Social Services, when necessary.

“I think for one thing, despite just protection, it creates a good relationship with the kids with the police that they normally don’t have, and they can see us on a normal basis and relate to us what they’re going through,” Gellett said of the role of SROs. “Just communicating with them and knowing what’s going on is a big part of it. Unfortunately, high school and middle school is a really tough time for kids in their life, and we want to make sure that not only that they’re doing well in school, but they’re doing well in life, mentally. So I think that that’s a big part of it.”

The other part of the role is the additional protection and security provided by having police officers onsite, he added.

“It’s come to that in this day and age,” Gellett said. He added that the SROs attend larger school events and activities outside of normal school hours, such as prom and athletic events, to continue to provide that security.

After the first full week of school, Gellett said he is enjoying working with the students, teachers, and staff.

“I’m really liking it. It’s been a lot of fun,” he said.

“I think we’re off to a good start,” Easton said of the school year. He added his thanks to parents for their cooperation and patience as everyone gets settled in with their pickup/drop-off routines, etc.

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