The Pasco County Sheriff’s Office has been named the Agency of the Year by the Florida Association of School Resource Officers.
The Pasco County School Board took a few minutes at its July 26 meeting to celebrate the accomplishment.
Michael Baumaister, the school district’s chief of safety and emergency operations, said: “It’s no surprise to me that they were selected, due to the incredible partnership we have with our sheriff’s office and we have with our local police agencies.
“I know there are counties in the state of Florida that cannot say that. I know that for sure.
“What impressed me the most was when the Pasco Sheriff’s Office was going up to the podium to get their award and get their recognition, the Pasco (Sheriff’s) Command insisted that we, from the school board, walk up with them to bask in the honor.
“Col. (Jeff) Harrington gave an eloquent speech and pointed out that this honor was not only for them, but for all of us.
“We really appreciate that.
“This speaks volumes about why we have the best program in the state. It’s not about the egos. It’s really what’s best for our students, our staff. And, we can have honest conversations with each other, which leads to policy change and innovation — that creates a safer environment for our schools.
“We don’t wait for a law to change. We do what’s right, and we do it now,” Baumaister said.
Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco also praised the partnership that’s been developed.
“We hear across the state about the friction that can go on between the district and the sheriff’s office, and who’s going to be in charge of what. The good thing about all of us is that it’s about the kids, first. The kids are the priority. It doesn’t matter who gets credit because it’s about helping those kids,” he said.
The sheriff also noted that open lines of communication between the sheriff’s office and the school district can help the district respond when students are in need of mental health counseling or some other kind of support.
Lt. Troy Ferguson of the sheriff’s office also was singled out during the statewide awards celebration when he received a lifetime achievement award.
Assistant Superintendent Betsy Kuhn shared some of her prepared remarks for that celebration with the school board.
Kuhn said: “Lt. Ferguson has been a true partner to Pasco Schools since he became our School Safety Lieutenant in 2015. Lt. Ferguson recognized the need to enhance our school safety plans and took on the project of completely revamping them, at a time when school safety best practices that were needed, were controversial.
“He designed and wrote a comprehensive, safety-focused, yet age-appropriate and sensitive active threat safety plan and prepared it for implementation, well before it was legislatively required.
“Lt. Ferguson is sought out by law enforcement agencies across the country to share his expertise and experience around school safety best practices. He has been a leader in many large-scale changes in the district’s safety efforts,” she said, citing active threat plans and the See Something, Say Something programs.
He’s involved in threat assessment and recognizes the role of a school resource officer (SRO) is so much more than a law enforcement officer, Kuhn added.
She continued: “He encourages his staff to be involved in their school communities and values mentoring and supporting our students.
“Lt. Ferguson understands and relates to our school culture and district culture so well that we often tease him about being a district employee, as well as a deputy, because he works so well with us.
“He’s hard-working, smart, resourceful and fun to work with, and our district is safer and better because of his vision and leadership,” Kuhn said.
Sheriff Nocco concurred with Kuhn’s remarks. “Troy does a phenomenal job,” he said.
He noted that the school district and sheriff’s office have a true partnership.
“When they started the guardian program, we were the first ones that got it kicked off. We got it running and going.
“People from across Tampa Bay and across the state said, ‘Can we have your training plans?’
“That’s because we were working together.
“There’s no two separate agencies. The guardians are on the same plan we are. We’re all in it together. We’re training together, we’re working together. That makes a huge difference,” Nocco said.
Superintendent Kurt Browning said he’d be remiss if he didn’t express his gratitude.
“When I attend superintendent’s meetings across the state, there are still districts — it’s like sandpaper with their law enforcement folks. I can tune them out because we don’t have that, never did, from Day One,” Browning said.
“Thank you. Thank you for what you do every day in our schools, to keep our students and staffs safe,” the superintendent said.
Don Peace, president of the United School Employees of Pasco (USEP), also offered words of appreciation.
“USEP would like to thank all of our SROs and SSOs (school security officers) for the job that they do each day in protecting and working with our students. They do an outstanding job and they deserve all of the credit that they get,” Peace said.
Published August 03, 2022