To Superintendent Doug Parker’s knowledge, employing a school resource officer at Big Foot High School had been discussed in the past, but it never came to fruition.
It always came down to money, he said.
Then the momentum of national events—including the fatal shooting of 17 people at a Parkland, Florida, high school—brought school safety to the forefront of everyone’s mind.
“The unfortunate incidents in other schools across the nation recently kind of put us on a fast track, that we felt it was the best thing to do,” Parker said. “Obviously, safety is our number one concern.”
Walworth police officer Jessie Lewin just finished her second week as Big Foot High School’s resource officer.
The position isn’t guaranteed for next school year, however.
For one thing, money is still a topic of discussion, Parker said. And the police department is only about a half-mile from the school.
Parker, who is finishing his first school year as administrator of his alma mater, sat down last summer with the Walworth police chief.
Whitewater High School had a school resource officer when Parker was principal there, and Parker said he would “love to have one” at Big Foot. Both sides agreed it would be a good thing to have, but discussions about logistics continued, he said.
Parker said they chose to give it a try. The Big Foot School Board approved the decision March 19.
The school district is paying $7,500 for Lewin to work until the school year ends in early June.
Lewin said she wants to stay on next year. She currently works about 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. each day.
The Burlington native started with the Walworth Police Department in May 2015. It was her first official police job, she said, though she had previously interned with the Wauwatosa Police Department.
When she started in Walworth, Lewin said she observed presentations on bullying, safety and other topics that officers gave in schools.
If she’s allowed to continue next year, she wants to bring more of those programs into the high school. She said she could speak to freshmen about bullying or driving-age students about traffic laws and vehicle safety.
Part of what makes a school resource officer successful, Lewin said, is the ability to be approachable and interact with students in a positive way. That involves asking how their day is going and saying, “Hello, good morning.”
Working to prevent crimes or trouble is also important, she said.
Many kids might not be comfortable interacting with a uniformed police officer, but Lewin said one of her favorite moments so far was the first time a student waved and said “hello” to her.
Students appear to be more accepting of her presence, she said.
Parker said a school resource officer needs to build a strong rapport with kids.
He pointed to the school district’s other recent safety successes. For example, Big Foot High School Principal Mike Hinske this year won the Wisconsin School Safety Coordinators Association Coordinator of the Year Award.
School safety appears to be top of mind more than it used to be, Parker said.
School shootings are on Lewin’s mind “every day,” she said.
“I think me being here might be a little bit more of a relief for some people. But I mean, no matter what, it can happen at any time,” Lewin said.
“That’s pretty much the big picture of everything,” she said. “That we’re here. The response for anything, any report, will be quick. We can maybe prevent anything from happening.”