By Ben Lane, TSB Staff
When the students at Cockrill Middle School returned from winter break two weeks ago, a new member of the faculty greeted them. He wasn’t like the other teachers. He wasn’t there for history, math or any other subject. He didn’t dress like the others, either.
Their other teachers didn’t wear a uniform. Or a badge. They didn’t carry a walkie-talkie. And they certainly didn’t have a gun holstered to their hip.
Daryl King, a fully uniformed member of the McKinney Police Department, was roaming their hallways that Tuesday, Jan. 8, when they returned to class. And every day since.
Student Resource Officers (SRO’s) have been a presence in McKinney schools for many years. One officer was already stationed at each of McKinney’s three high schools. But officers have been absent from the middle schools for several years due to budgetary issues.
After the tragic events of Dec. 14 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn, the McKinney Police Department and the McKinney ISD administrators worked together to resolve the budgetary issues and quickly added officers to all five MISD middle schools. The officers were in place when the students returned from winter break.
Officer King, an eight-year veteran of the police department, was one of nearly a dozen officers to volunteer to serve as an SRO in one of McKinney’s middle schools. Being a parent with three children in McKinney schools factored into King’s decision to volunteer for this unique duty.
“I’ve been plugged into the district for quite a while,” King told TownSquareBuzz.com. “I’ve done things like Read Across America and mentor groups at an elementary school, so it was kind of a natural fit for me to make that lateral move.”
“I knew that they (the police and school administrators) were already in the process of trying to put SRO’s back into the middle schools,” King said. “I knew that was something that I was going to put in for when the opportunity came back up.”
Having spent nearly all of his career on nightly patrol duty, King welcomes the opportunity to work in the same place every day. “Now this is my environment, which I’m learning daily and that’s making me more comfortable,” he said.
In his three weeks as a SRO, King has already begun to learn the names of the many students and teachers. He even caught one student off-guard by saying hello to him by name as we walked through the administrative office. King feels it’s important to know everyone’s name, saying, “I want to let them that I’m paying attention and I’m remembering their name because I care.”
King is there at the school every morning, watching the children as they come in off the busses or as their parents drop them off. Throughout the day he tries to mingle amongst the students as much as he can, and sees his role as much more than an armed guard for the school.
“A lot of kids see a police officer as a non-approachable kind of person,” he said. “And I think that’s a big part of what we’re trying to do … is to diffuse that thought process. Hopefully down the road, whether it’s 10, 15 or 20 years from now, if they need someone, they could call us or come by the station and ask for help, where otherwise they wouldn’t have due to the negative light that has been shown to them about us.”
In addition to his duties as a police officer, King also teaches at the law enforcement academy at Collin College. He says that his passion is “teaching and helping other folks,”so he sees this as a natural fit for him. “It’s been a very easy transition. Here it’s all about being a mentor for the kids and hanging out with them. It really is about letting the kids build that comfort level,” King said.
Having a police officer back in the school is a welcome sight for Cockrill’s principal Dr. Melinda DeFelice. She said the safety and security of the students is her ultimate priority. “I’ve always been concerned about the safety of my kids,” Dr. DeFelice said. “I mean that’s my number one goal. I have three goals every day. Make sure kids are safe, make sure they’re happy and make sure they learn.”
DeFelice, who’s served as principal at Cockrill for five years, remembers the earlier time when there was an officer in her school and is pleased to have King walking the halls and interacting with the children. “Over the years, we’ve wanted to have an SRO back on our budget, just as a deterrent and to have that presence,” she said.
Along with King’s addition, the school is utilizing other enhanced security measures that were put into place for the spring semester. All the school’s doors are always locked. Visitors must declare the purpose of their visit and speak to a member of the school staff via intercom before they are buzzed in at the front door. All visitors must then show a picture ID and no one can enter the school without first going through the school office.
Over the course of the day, King does perimeter checks of the building to ensure that all the doors are locked and signs are posted inside each door reminding the children not to let anyone in, even if it’s the principal herself.
While the events in Newtown certainly expedited the process of adding the SRO’s back into the middle schools, DeFelice says that it’s business as usual for the school, albeit with more awareness. “You have a heightened sense, but we still do business the same way we’ve always done,” she said. “We don’t walk around scared. We’re still doing school like we always have.”
King agreed, adding, “The schools are operating the way they always have. (The SRO’s) coming in to the schools, we’re here to support the administration. Of course safety and security is our job, that’s what I got into the job for. When things like that (the tragedy in Newtown) occur, it comes the forefront of peoples’ mind. Ultimately when I come to school every day, it’s because I want to interact with kids, make an impression on them and let the know if they need help or if they need any kind of assistance whatsoever, they can come to me and we’ll figure out what they need.”
So instead of simply viewing Daryl King (or any other SRO) as an armed guard, think of his purpose as threefold: first, to protect the school; second, to serve as a mentor and positive role model for the children; and third, to be a tool that the faculty can use to help the children in any and every way. King’s presence hopefully helps the kids to feel safer and will hopefully lead to the kids having a more positive image about the police.
For DeFelice, the most important thing is for the kids to feel safe and to just be kids. “We have to have normalcy,” she said, “have kids feel normal, go about school, enjoying their friends, learning and having a good time while they’re here.”