DOVER — When school starts Tuesday, many Hillsborough elementary school students will notice for the first time the presence of a security officer patrolling their campuses and getting to know students, parents and school employees.
“I’m not just a person with a gun,” said Quentinlee Morgan, a U.S. Army veteran and one of 20 newly hired mobile community school officers who will each keep an eye on multiple elementary schools. “I’m here to help them. We’ll be making runs around the school. We want to make sure it’s the safest possible area for our children.”
Safety and security was the main focus of Superintendent MaryEllen Elia’s annual back-to-school news conference Friday in the Media Center at Bailey Elementary School in Dover. She spoke to a crowd of at least 100, including school employees, district officials and school board members, as well as an Internet audience.
The hiring of the mobile officers — along with two new security specialists — is the first phase of a four-year plan that aims to eventually place an officer at each elementary school. The first phase cost $815,000, and the school board will decide whether to approve funding for each of the remaining three years.
“It’s a community approach to supporting our kids,” said David Weaver-Rogers, one of the new community school officers. Weaver-Rogers is a retired Tampa police officer who has experience as a school resource officer.
Each middle and high school already has its own resource deputy or officer from the Hillsborough Sheriff’s Office or Tampa Police Department. Until now, only 19 out of the district’s 144 elementary schools have their own community school officers, which are different from sworn law enforcement officers because they do not make arrests.
During the conference, Elia also highlighted academic successes from last school year, including Bailey Elementary improving it’s state-issued D grade to an A.
She expects enrollment will be up district-wide this year, with an estimated 205,000 students, up from about 202,000 students last school year.
Pedestrian safety will be another focus for the district this year. In the past three years, two students have been struck and killed, and several others have been injured, walking across busy East Hillsborough Avenue near Middleton High School. A bus stop was added this summer to deter students from walking across the road in areas where there aren’t crosswalks.
“We think one of the things we have to address is how can we be safe in this community?” Elia said. “We, as a community, need to work on this.”