Less than two months into the school year, Region 13 school district administrators say they’ve already seen a positive impact from the newly hired school resource officer.
“The most impressive thing so far that I’ve seen is the connection he’s made with kids,” said Brian Falcone, principal of Coginchaug Regional High School, at a recent Board of Education Meeting.
After several weeks of training, state trooper Mark Hesseltine started his new role as school resource officer during the first week of school. He also serves as a summer shift trooper for Durham.
“I’ve been approached several times by parents and they tell me they’re happy I’m here. I feel like the students appreciate me being there. Several of them stop into my office and just talk, just about anything,” Hesseltine told the board on Wednesday, Oct. 10.
Hesseltine’s typical day starts and ends at the high school, where he’s based with an office.
“Many of the kids are new drivers, so I try to be visible in the parking lot,” Hesseltine said. “I’ve noticed since I’ve been doing this, their driving has improved greatly.”
Falcone said the most visible impact so far has been in the students’ driving around campus, which in the past has been considered a “tremendous” safety concern.
During the day, Hesseltine said his office is always open for students, as well as staff, to come in and talk at any time. He also does regular walks around the grounds, looking for safety issues, and visits at least two of the other district schools during the day, which he rotates throughout the week.
“I try to be very visible in the schools, I try to have informal conversations with the students, with the staff, and parents when possible. I do this to try to just develop a relationship with them and I want the students to know I’m on their side … and I want them to be able to trust me,” Hesseltine said.
Superintendent of schools Kathryn Veronesi agreed that Hesseltine is focusing on the priorities set by the administration for the first few months of school, which include visibility, trust and relationships. She said they hope to have him interacting with parents more in the months to come.
Because Durham and Middlefield are state trooper districts, the SRO came from the state police and was assigned to Region 13, with a memorandum of understanding for a year-long contract. The board of education had previously re-allocated $400,000 in this year’s budget to unspecified safety measures across the district, of which $140,000 went toward hiring the SRO.