The following letter was submitted to the Tempe Union Governing Board and signed by all the district high schools’ principals.
We love our students. We care about them deeply and think about them all the time. We celebrate with them when they succeed. We anguish with them when they stumble. We do our best to prepare them for the academic rigors of their post-secondary life; and we try our best to guide, support and equip them to succeed in a world where racism still exists, where Black lives matter, and where we can all do our part to make things better.
When the intense stress of being a teenager in a world that feels too complicated to navigate becomes too much, we move heaven and earth to get them the support they need. To be whole. To be supported. To feel valued.
And when Columbine, and Sandy Hook, and Marjory Stoneman Douglas, and so many other school shootings happen, or a pandemic strikes, we grieve for the victims and act to make our schools ever safer. It is the work that everyone in our district does. For our students. For everyone in our district.
This work is reflected in our district’s very first core value and belief: We Put Students First. We do this by providing them thoughtful and engaging curriculum and instruction, turning on a dime when necessary, as we are doing with our proposed Flex Learning model. Putting our students first also means taking care of their social and emotional needs, providing for their safety, and creating an environment where they can learn, engage and grow intellectually, socially and emotionally.
We are never perfect at this, but we always strive to be better at it. While the student counselor ratio in Arizona is 905-1, among the worst in the nation, ours is closer to 425-1. Not near perfect, but better than the national average. Our students need opportunities to think, take a breath, and reflect. Each of our schools has a Mindfulness room, and we are ramping up our resources and programs to fully engage the potential they offer for supporting our students’ social and emotional well-being. Not perfect, but on the right path.
Through our partnership with the City of Tempe, we have CARE 7 supported social workers. They are all so dedicated and caring and work closely with our invaluable district social workers and psychologists as critical members of our intervention teams to support the social and emotional health of our students. Not perfect, but it is the support our students need. We will continue to try to find even more supports for our students as they navigate our rigorous academics and the challenges of teenage life.
We are fortunate that our campuses have outstanding people working to support our students. And we can always use more resources. Among the resources that we know are critical to that social, emotional AND safety support for our students, as well as our staff, are our school resource officers.
We are painfully aware that there have been criminal injustices in police departments around the country. And we believe systemic reform is needed in both policing and society for our students and our communities to have equity of opportunity and equality of justice.
And we believe we must all become anti-racist in America for that to be truly realized. We believe it is important for us as educational leaders on our campuses to support and foster those beliefs and actions of equity and justice. And, we simultaneously believe strongly that the School Resource Officers on our campus are, and ought to be, a key resource for the solutions we all seek in providing safety, support, education and equity for our students and for our community.
We have been fortunate in our district that our SROs have truly been School RESOURCE Officers, not just Cops on Campus. Their work, like ours, is never perfect, but we believe it models what community policing is all about, and what school resource officers were meant to do; positively educate students about the law, both in small groups and larger classrooms, support and mentor students when they are feeling pressure, help our students make good and wise decisions, get to know our students and their families and connect them to community resources, understand the pressures that teenagers are dealing with so police officers can better deal with our students and young people in our community, protect our campus community from outside threats, and be an integral part of our school support teams. This is how we help students learn and grow into caring and compassionate adults, who know their rights, who know they have support systems, who know they are protected and cared for, and who know the importance of equity and justice.
How do our School Resource Officers do this work? Here are some examples from our campuses:
Our SROs are a valuable member of our school safety teams and our school Crisis Teams.
Our SROs are our primary conduit of communication for safety situations in area, helping to determine when lockdowns might be necessary for the safety of our students and staff, or when there is a threat that we need to be aware of for the safety of our students and staff.
Our SROs are helping to implement THE SANDY HOOK PROMISE (for example at McClintock it is the McClintock Promise).
Our SROs lead formal and informal support groups, including, for example, a men’s group on one of our campuses for male students, in conjunction with our CARE 7 Youth Specialist, as a way to reduce social isolation and increase inclusivity.
Our SROs work in classrooms doing a variety of Law Related Education teaching, including Crime Scene Investigations, Criminal Justice classes, and through the use of Drunk Driving Goggles for students to experience during lunch.
Our SROs attend many of our after-school events, and are always talking with and engaging individual and groups of students as a valued part of our school communities.
Our SROs work with our students to help them understand issues surrounding a variety of subjects such as online stalking and the dangers of social media.
Our SROs participate in many trainings regarding the social/emotional health of students, restorative justice and the crisis team, to better help them understand our approach to these issues and to understand, support and be a key part of our intervention teams.
Our SROs use restorative practices rather than punitive punishment.
Our SROs do countless silent acts of goodwill and kindness, including purchasing shoes for students and their elementary siblings, a stroller for a TAPP mom, providing lunches for students, and so many more.
Our SROs act as a liaison between parents and the Tempe and Phoenix Police Departments.
Our SROs provide immediate and critical response to any drugs/weapons situations on or around our campuses.
Our SROs support and practice restorative justice philosophies with students.
Our SROs are aware of, and work to significantly reduce the school-to-prison pipeline problem through counseling, mentoring and personal intervention.
Our SROs always are a support for our teenagers, as exemplified by one of our SROs being selected as a Champion for Youth award winner this past year, primarily for his counseling work in suicide prevention and student support, having directly saved the life of a student who was exhibiting suicide ideations and would only talk with his SRO.
These are just a few examples of the critical roles our SROs play every day in keeping our campuses safe, our students supported and our pursuit of equity of justice and equality of opportunity at the forefront of everything we do, as we continue to put our students first.
and Sarah Tolar