Officer Dan Smith of the Provo Police Department was recently awarded the 2015 National School Safety Award in Las Vegas, Nev. The award recognizes those organizations and individuals who have created safe learning environments for our nation’s youth.
Smith was the only individual officer recognized this year; the other awards went to organizations and school districts. I was curious to know what Smith was doing that made such a difference, so I met him at Dixon Middle School where he is the school resource officer.
There was a time when Dixon Middle School had less than a stellar reputation among local parents. I know this first hand as all of my sons have attended this school. Whether the reputation was deserved or not, I can’t really say, but there did seem to be an inordinate number of fights and a high number of disciplinary issues.
All that changed four years ago when Smith was assigned to Dixon along with Principal Jarrod Sites. Both Smith and Sites were determined to change the attitude and restore a safe environment conducive to learning.
Smith made it abundantly clear that there’s no way he could be effective without the help and support of Sites, and the two of them, in conjunction with the other staff and faculty members are in constant communication about issues and ideas and how these relate to their goals of a safer school environment for all the kids.
When it comes to disciplining a student the principal rarely makes a decision without speaking with Smith first because he values his input and knowledge of the students and their backgrounds. Smith said that sometimes suspension is the worst thing for a student because it keeps them away from school and potentially subjects them to poor exterior influences. There are some things they all have a zero tolerance for: guns, drugs and physical violence are just a few of the things that will get the student a pair of silver friendship bracelets courtesy of Dan Smith.
More than anything, Smith emphasized the need to keep the kids in school and keep them engaged. The most at-risk youths are the ones who go home to empty houses and don’t stay engaged. After-school programs are paramount to help save kids from a life on the streets.
During the summer months when the kids are out of school, Smith conducts home visits and follows up with at-risk students. Constant contact with the kids helps them see Smith as a resource and not an adversary. These close relationships has helped Smith prevent crimes before they happen as opposed to investigating the aftermath. Proactive rather than reactive is the motto here.
Smith and Sites have an open-door policy. This isn’t a lip-service open-door policy; this is real. Dan told me about a student that had an anger-management problem and was prone to screaming and cussing in the classroom if something upset him. By the book—the student could have been suspended, but Smith felt that this would actually be detrimental so, Smith encouraged the student to come to his office when he felt like screaming and cussing. The student did and Smith allowed him to scream and cuss to his heart’s content. Neither actions bothered Smith, a 10 year veteran of law enforcement, and soon the student found different coping mechanisms.
Smith loves his job, but heartbreak and tragedy are also part of the deal. He has had to deliver more than one death notice to families of students at his school. It is especially hard when the death occurs because of a suicide. Smith has spent four years in this job and would love to stay forever, but department policy doesn’t allow it, so he expects to be reassigned in the near future. Since his arrival, crime at the school has plummeted, serious fights, which at one time were a weekly occurrence, now, rarely happen. Students love Smith and families now come to have picnics on school grounds, but as nice as he is, students are quick to warn each other that Smith doesn’t play games and will make an arrest if it is necessary — so behave!
After Smith received the award I spoke with Sites about Smith and his contributions to Dixon Middle School. Sites said, “Four years ago, Dan and I were assigned to a struggling middle school. Perception issues, crime rates and community morale associated with the school were low. Students were performing below expectations and parents were opting to send their students to other schools in the area. From the beginning, Officer Smith worked with the community to develop a plan that changes these perceptions, and raised the expectations of kids behavior at the school. Dan met with parent groups, teachers and the administration to address concerns, seek input and to gather support.” Sites continued, “After four years of hard work, Dixon Middle School is now perceived in a positive light. Our school is rivaling the academic performance of other schools in the community, crime is down, prevention is up and students are learning at higher levels.
Under Smith’s leadership and collaboration, Dixon Middle School has transformed. His efforts are noteworthy. The relationship he maintains with the administration is more productive and successful than I have experienced in 18+ years as an educator. I believe that others need to learn from his experience and use his work model to enhance the school resource officer relationships in their own schools.”
Congratulations to Officer Dan Smith for his dedication to making a difference.ASJ