By Nathan Ham
Watauga County Schools will have two additional Student Resource Officers stationed at schools throughout the county, bringing the total to five.
The two newest hires are Dustin Kerley, who served with the West Jefferson Police Department in Ashe County and most recently worked as a security officer for Samaritan’s Purse, and Paul Scott, who served with the Watauga County Sheriff’s Office for more than 10 years and has worked with Watauga Rescue. Kerley will rotate between Parkway School and Green Valley School while Scott will serve Bethel, Cove Creek and Mabel Schools.
Those two will join Seth Morrison, who has been an SRO in Watauga County Schools for over a year. Morrison will serve Hardin Park and Valle Crucis Schools.
In addition to those three SROs, a Blowing Rock Police Department Officer is stationed at Blowing Rock School and a Boone Police Department Officer is on duty at Watauga High School.
“I am grateful for these new positions made possible by funding from the N.C. General Assembly and our county commissioners. The additional officers are part of our comprehensive approach to improving health and safety of our students and staff as well as improving the security of our school facilities,” said Dr. Scott Elliott, Watauga County Schools’ Superintendent. “These officers are available to assist students and parents any time there is a need. Right now the officers are spending time becoming familiar with our schools, students and staff members. They are reviewing and updating our safety plans and developing programs to support students and parents.”
Dr. Elliott added that the school system plans on implementing the anonymous reporting app “SPK UP NC” as soon as the app is available for the schools to use. The app allows students to send tips about school safety through their phone, tablets and computers. According to data provided by the Center for Safer Schools, the pilot project has been used in four counties in the state at 42 different schools. Tips have ranged from concerns about bullying, drugs and weapons to fights and underage drinking. Statistics also found that 90 percent of students said they would use an anonymous reporting tool if it was available.
Other new staff members have helped with student health and safety in Watauga County.
“We also have added additional school nurses and school counselors in addition to our ongoing mental health support programs,” said Dr. Elliott.
Being able to communicate with the sheriff’s office, police departments and emergency personnel is always important in a time of crisis. Watauga County Schools recently received a grant to help with improved radio communication between the SROs, other officers who may need to respond to a crisis and emergency personnel such as fire departments and EMS.
Along with the safety responsibilities at each school, SROs will also continue to teach the D.A.R.E. program in the fifth grade and will hopefully be expanding the program to include middle school students.
“I believe the SROs will be a positive addition to our schools. I appreciate our ongoing partnership with the Watauga County Sheriff’s Office, the Blowing Rock Police Department and the Boone Police Department. I hope we can work together in the future to provide additional officers for our schools,” said Elliott.