Officer: First year in school his ‘most rewarding’

BUCKHANNON — Buckhannon Academy Elementary School’s first prevention resource officer is wrapping up his first year.
Sgt. Mark Stewart, a long-time police officer, transitioned to BAES last summer.
“I’m getting ready to start my 27th year in law enforcement and this is my most rewarding,” he told the Upshur County Board of Education.
In his first school year, Stewart said that despite what is often said teachers are not the problem.
 “Yesterday, we had a gym teacher punched by a student because they got mad at him,” he said. “This year we had a student come to school with a handful of ammunition and passed it out. We have had two fake gun incidents — one of the guns was very realistic looking and was pulled out on the playground.
“The Safety Patrol started this year observed a young lady with what they thought was a knife,” he said. “I went to the teacher, they got the backpack and opened it up and it was a knife about that big. It was fake but it looked real when they pulled it out.”
Another student threatened suicide at the school, according to Stewart.
Sometimes adults create problems at the school.
Stewart said he had a felony arrest at the school after recognizing someone he knew to be wanted.
“I was walking down the hall to one of the classes and I passed a guy in the hallway,” he said. “I thought, ‘that guy looks familiar.’ I went to the office and looked at the sign-in sheet. He didn’t come up on our system but I called the [Buckhannon Police Department] and said, ‘look this guy’s name up. I am pretty sure he is wanted.’ He was. I called for other officers and they came immediately to the school. We came down the hallway and had him in a room where no one could see him and were able to arrest him. We got the other classrooms locked down verbally.”
In another case, four adults were arguing in the school office over child custody and Stewart ended up escorting three of them outside.
Another child custody incident last week included an adult making threats.
Earlier this year, a military funeral took place at nearby Poling-St. Clair Funeral Home and the honor guard’s shots fired prompted the school to go on lock-down.
Stewart said bullying is always a concern at the school and something to deal with.
“We are losing a valuable asset at the school,” he said.  School counselor Tanya Zickefoose is moving to Buckhannon-Upshur Middle School.
“She and I tag-team in some of the classes here,” he said.
“I have heard a lot of people say ‘why do we need officers in school?” he said. “There are a lot of reasons why we need officers in school. It’s not like it was 20 or 30 years ago.”
Stewart said he finds drug paraphernalia around the school.
“Every morning when I come on duty, I do a loop around the school,” he said. “I go to the playgrounds and check the equipment. I’m finding alcohol, I’m finding needles.”
Stewart did ask the board to consider improving the camera system at BAES.
He applied for a grant but was not approved.
“I would like to see a better camera system at the school,” he said. “I do appreciate the board for everything they have done. I love my job and I hope to stay here for a long time.”
Cpl. C.J. Day is the PRO at Buckhannon-Upshur Middle School and said the small number of petitions filed this year is proof the program is working.
“I’ve only filed eight petitions on kids this year,” he said. “There’s been some great changes in the school with administration and the way different things are handled.”
Board member Carl “Robbie” Martin asked what had changed.
“Just getting out there and being with the kids more and making sure they understand our expectations,” Day replied. “I think with our visits to the fifth grade, we get them started right away knowing what is expected of them and we reinforce that throughout the year.”
Day said he focuses on building relationships with the students.
“I’ve met with kids daily,” he said. “I have kids that will come with me whether it is a problem at home,  a problem with other kids or they just want to chat and say hi.
“It’s been a very — and I hate using the word quiet because that’s a bad word for police officers — but a very quiet year.
“As we go longer with this program, the kids are getting more used to us. We have gotten out more and visited the elementary schools and definitely with the addition of Mark at Academy, I think we are going to see it get better and better. We still have some road bumps ahead of us, but we will take the issues as they come.”
Day also thanked the board for the new cameras at B-UMS which have helped solve more incidents.
Cpl. Rocky Hebb, PRO at B-UHS, said he hears great things about Stewart and the relationship he is building with students at Academy as well as the work Day continues to do at the middle school and that helps him at the high school level.
“When they come up to me, they are used to having an officer at the school and they have built relationships with them,” he said.
Hebb added the staff at Upshur County Schools do an outstanding job.

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