GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — They are the unsung heroes, protecting students and staff at West Michigan’s largest school district.
Officers with Grand Rapids Public Schools’ Public Safety Department were honored Friday on the last day of school.
“As we face challenges across this nation, I do want you to know how much I appreciate you. How much I respect what you do,” GRPS Superintendent Teresa Weatherall Neal said to the district’s 45 public safety officers.
It’s a job which has changed from making sure kids don’t skip school a few decades ago, to defending students against armed attacks against school across the country in recent years.
“We see the stress in them every day. That’s why these types of events at the end of the year are so important,” said Assistant Superintendent and Public Safety Director Larry Johnson, who also serves as chairman of the National Association of School Safety and Law Enforcement officers.
Johnson will soon share his success in Grand Rapids with the rest of the state as a member of Gov. Rick Snyder’s School Safety Task Force.
He will be joined by two other representatives from West Michigan on the task force, including Nicholas Dent, a Spanish teacher at Marshall High School and former Grand Rapids police officer Brian Gard, who owns Rockford-based CommTac Solutions, which teaches people how to respond to workplace violence.
“Ensure people are confident, and have processes to either take action, lifesaving action, or to ensure that it doesn’t happen,” Gard says of his company.
The goal of the task force will be to identify brick and mortar, policy measures to increase school safety and to look at best practices from other areas of the country. It will work to not just respond to acts of violence, but to prevent them in the first place.
“All getting at the table at the same time to see what’s best practice, what has worked, was has not worked and then make some recommendations,” Johnson said.
Both Johnson and Gard believe the diversity of the task force will bring some out-of-the-box solutions to the table.
“Certainly, school safety is a team approach and there are many layers to school safety, so it’s important to have varying perspectives on that,” Gard said.
Johnson said he is pleased with the intentional selection of people from different disciplines of public safety.
The task force will get to work right away and plans to submit a final report to Snyder and the legislature no later than Nov. 30.