Gulfport’s own Officer Michael Sigsbee is serving as Gulfport Montessori Elementary School’s first school resource officer (SRO) as the result of a new state statute signed into law earlier this year.
Essentially, the law mandates that a Safe School Officer be assigned to every elementary, middle and high school in every district. This includes charter schools. The legislation was inspired by the February 14, 2018 mass shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida that left 14 students and three teachers dead.
The recent fast-paced statute approval process has created cascading budget issues that for the immediate future have left school districts, sheriff’s offices and police departments in many local municipalities without the ability to fund the change.
But, not in Gulfport.
At its April 17 meeting, members of Gulfport City Council unanimously approved funding for the position because “it’s the right thing to do,” said City Manager Jim O’Reilly.
The city will fund the new position until the budgeting issue is resolved in a way that is similar to what is being done for the two established SRO positions at Boca Ciega High School, said O’Reilly.
For the past 15 years, the Gulfport Police Department has had two full-time SROs assigned to Boca Ciega High School. The Pinellas County School District police force takes care of the SRO at Disston Academy, a special needs school that is also within the city’s boundaries, said O’Reilly. The district funds these three SRO positions.
“First and foremost, the primary reason any police officer is in a school is for the safety of the students, staff and visitors,” said Sigsbee.
His focus is to do classroom instruction on different safety topics like “stranger danger,” “basic drug education” and “staying home alone” in addition to interacting with and assisting the teachers, staff and members of the Parent-Teacher Association.
Sigsbee also serves as a member of the school’s site safety committee.
Police officers do not get directly involved with school disciplinary issues like students running in hallways because “that’s its own thing,” said Sigsbee.
“The biggest thing here is to interact with the students in a positive way,” he said. “If anyone needs to talk, I’m here. I’ll listen.”
When he visits the cafeteria, he sits at tables with students while they are eating. While walking through the hallways, he says everybody wants to give him a high five.
The kids are getting to know him as “Officer Mike,” he said.
According to a recent city manager’s report, Sigsbee visited all 42 classrooms during the week of November 5 “to discuss expectations during active assailant drills.”
His secret to maintaining the attention of students during a 20-minute presentation is interaction such as role-playing.
“Playing is one of the best ways to learn,” he said. “I really like interacting with the kids and being here.”