OAKMAN — A candid conversation was held in Oakman on Monday about ensuring the safety of Walker County students.Walker County Sheriff Nick Smith and Walker County Board of Education Superintendent …
OAKMAN — A candid conversation was held in Oakman on Monday about ensuring the safety of Walker County students.
Walker County Sheriff Nick Smith and Walker County Board of Education Superintendent Dr. Joel Hagood met with Oakman Mayor Cory Franks to discuss the ongoing process of securing all county schools.
It was announced Monday that Deputy Tim Brand would serve as a school resource officer for Oakman High and Oakman Middle schools, and he is one of three other officers that have been assigned to outlying schools in the county without a municipal police force — Valley Jr. High, Curry schools and Lupton Jr. High.
The Town of Oakman does have a police department, but Police Chief Ken Marbury has been responsible for monitoring the school and responding to police calls.
Smith and Franks have come to an agreement where the Town of Oakman will pay 29 hours of Brand's salary, while the Sheriff's Office will be responsible for the remaining 11 hours.
The board of education and Sheriff's Office are funding the other school resource officers that were put in place in late February.
"We're helping pay the cost on a couple of those right now," Hagood said. "We've made some pretty significant cuts at our central office, and we took a small amount of that money [for their salaries], which is well worth the expense."
This summer, all of the school resource officers will go through training to become certified SROs, a cost the school board has agreed to cover.
Smith said he is hopeful the school board and Sheriff's Office can work together to apply for federal COPS School Violence Prevention Program (SVPP) grants, which help improve security at schools across the nation. Up to $25 million in grant funding is available.
Hagood voiced his support and pledged his willingness to help with the grant application process.
Smith and Hagood said they will develop a long-term plan over the summer for securing county schools, but they are both proud of the progress so far.
Oakman Principal Patrick Gann later joined the conversation between Franks, Hagood and Smith, and put into perspective how beneficial it is to have a school resource officer assigned to Oakman.
He said nearly 400 students are enrolled at Oakman High School, and Oakman Middle School Principal Chris Walton told the Daily Mountain Eagle on Tuesday that nearly 700 students attend the elementary/middle school. This brings the total enrollment between both campuses to over 1,000 students.
Hagood added that Oakman Middle School is the largest school in the county system.
"The biggest thing for us, as administrators, is if we do have an issue, usually it takes over 45 minutes if Marbury is out on call to get somebody down. Now, we'll have somebody right down the hallway," Gann said.
Franks said he is happy to now have a police officer monitoring the schools all day.
"We need to have that presence, somebody there all day long so if something happens, we've got a chance to prevent a situation from getting out of hand," Franks said. "Just that in itself will make us work together throughout the summer to make sure we can continue to have Deputy Brand here for the next school year."
Smith is hopeful other municipalities will contact him if they want to explore agreements to enhance school safety.
"I'm hoping that with Mayor Franks reaching out for this agreement that maybe other municipalities will as well, and we can come up with some cost sharing efforts to get all of our schools protected," he said.
Franks added, "The times we're living in now, I think it's important we have an officer in the schools. I think this is a prime example of what we can accomplish if we work together."
According to Hagood and Smith, the only schools that currently do not have a school resource officer assigned are Carbon Hill schools and Cordova schools.