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B-UHS Principal Eddie Vincent and Upshur County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Sara Stankus attended Thursday's commission meeting to request that two PRO officers be stationed at B-UHS.

Commission gives the green light to adding a second Prevention Resource Officer to high school

BUCKHANNON – The Upshur County Commission agreed to draft an agreement for the Upshur County Board of Education to add another Prevention Resource Officer – commonly known as PRO officer – to Buckhannon-Upshur High School.

Superintendent of Upshur County Schools Dr. Sara Stankus and Buckhannon-Upshur High School Principal Eddie Vincent attended Thursday’s Jan. 23 commission meeting to make the request.

“It’s in the levy that are three Prevention Resource Officers, and right now we have three officers, one of which is in an elementary school,” Stankus said. “Because of the challenges that we’re seeing in our high school, we are coming to commission today to ask to add an additional PRO officer at our high school.”

The position of PRO officer at Buckhannon Academy Elementary School will be eliminated at the end of this school year, and a second PRO officer provided by the sheriff’s department will be stationed at B-UHS. Sgt. Mark Stewart is currently the PRO officer at BAES.

“We want to maintain those three officers,” Stankus said. “We feel that our need is at the high school, and this PRO officer serves in crisis mediation, crisis prevention, intervention and de-escalation at the high school. They do patrols around the school building. They help staff during those large group or large crowd events, and we have over 1,000 students in this building.”

Stankus said the PRO officers are also engaged in educating students and one of their most important roles is focusing on prevention.

“I know there’s a lot of expenses related to intervention or even, as commission knows, how much it costs to put someone in jail,” Stankus said. “We believe the money is better spent on the other end with the children before they get involved in these criminal behaviors.”

Vincent said the previous PRO officer at the high school, Rocky Hebb, did an excellent job building relationships with students and working with them, but that he may have had too much on his plate.

“One of the things that concerned me about him is, I feel like he got overwhelmed and our school is supposed to slightly increase in numbers over the next couple years,” Vincent said. “We’re going to be above 1,100 kids next year, so every day in our building, there’s 1,200 Upshur County people in that building.”

He said Hebb’s time was taken up with issues involving social media and cellphones, on top of his other responsibilities at the school. Hebb left his post recently to accept a position with the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources.

“PRO officers are asked a couple times a day to do random door checks in the building, making sure the building is secure from the outside, regular patrols on the inside, not to mention being in the classroom and sitting in the office,” Vincent said. “Most of his interaction with students actually came in the cafeteria during lunches where he could see most of our students at one time when he would always be approached.”

He said PRO officers also monitor the parking lot in the morning and afternoon because there are about 100 or 200 drivers at the high school every day.

“Having the numbers that we have, the issues of drug and alcohol exist everywhere, not just in Upshur County, but nationwide, so this job’s important,” Vincent said. “It’s an investment and there’s nothing worse to me than seeing one of our graduates on the front page of the newspaper for something that maybe we could have done something about.”

He said the volume of issues is hard to deal with for one PRO officer.

“The biggest thing, in my experience, is the relationship they have with students,” Vincent said. “The problem was the volume of issues, and it’s hard to manage and I’m concerned if we don’t provide Deputy (Dewaine) Linger with some assistance, then we will have a similar deal with him, where you [see him] going to do something else.”

Commissioner Sam Nolte said he agreed that preventative measures are important to help students stay on the right path.

“One of the biggest things we’re struggling with as a county is our jail bill,” Nolte said. “We were $15,000 shy of $900,000 last year for our jail bill and to put that in perspective, five years ago, it was half that, it was around $400,000. There has been no increase in fees from the jail bill, but that’s how many more people are spending time in jail now and our population really hasn’t changed.”

Commissioner Kristie Tenney made a motion to move forward with drafting the agreement and once that is signed, it will be given to the Upshur County Board of Education for approval. Nolte seconded the motion, which passed unanimously.

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