By Sterling McGinn

It has been only two months since the Tahquamenon Area Schools (TAS) resource officers began walking the district hallways, but there’s already a noticeable change.

“You can tell a lot has changed with the culture, and you can tell when [the officers] are here,” said Newberry High School Principal Trevor Clark. “When they are here, they interact with the students, and it is very beneficial.”

Made possible through funds from a Michigan Section 97 flat grant, which provides money for school security, Luce County Sheriff’s Department Deputy Zachariah Kitzman and Undersheriff Mike Peters have been acting as the resource officers. With recent concerns regarding vandalism, vaping, and other illegal activity within the district, some type of school officer was warranted.

Earlier this year, TAS Superintendent Stacy Price approached Luce County Sheriff Eric Gravelle about securing a resource officer, though it wasn’t feasible at the time.

The Section 97 flat grant brought TAS $61,000 strictly to be used for school resource officers. The grant funds have to be used by September of 2024.

In the meantime, Gravelle received his 2024 budget from the Luce County Commission, which included cuts to his deputy budget and reducing his undersheriff by 10 hours a week. Fortuitously, that left time available for department officers to serve at the school. Deputy Kitzman first reported to the school on January 22.

Kitzman said it’s going very well.

“I have talked to a lot of the teachers and staff, and they feel like there is a big change the days that we are there,” Kitzman said. “The students have been a lot more comfortable coming to us.”

Kitzman, a 2003 graduate of the school, spends two days per week with the district.

“Zach is doing an outstanding job. He is playing chess and having lunch with the kids and playing cards with them at lunch,” said Gravelle. “They have something going–if the lower grades do really well in class and behave, they get to have lunch with him.”

Resource officers do not enforce school policies, or discipline kids, but are present to handle criminal matters if and when they take place.

“Mostly, it is walking the halls, though I get pulled aside for things—we have students who come in late, we have been dealing with some of the truancy,” Kitzman said. “Sometimes it is simple stuff, like walking the little kids to their class. It is kind of changing the perception of, ‘We are here to get you’ to, ‘Hey, we are here to help.’”

Clark said the resource officer’s presence streamlines having to speak to them regarding any issues that would normally go to law enforcement. “If I have a confiscated item, we are able to have that report filed quicker,” he said.

Kitzman said there have been a couple incidents with students, but they were able to manage them very quickly.

Undersheriff Mike Peters works once every two weeks and feels the program is beneficial to the district.

Peters starts his day working the school zone and helping the crossing guard out and he greets the kids as much as he can.

“I do a perimeter check around the whole building making sure all of the exterior doors are locked and then after that, I meet with the principals and get some updates on what’s been going on since the last resource officer was there.”

“From my point of view, I have noticed a reduction in complaints,” said Undersheriff Peters. “When school first started, we had a half a dozen complaints a week there and we have knocked that down to almost nothing.”

The grant funding the program runs through the end of the 2023-2024 school year, but there are hopes to renew the program next school year.

“We have had some outstanding comments, and I got an email from Representative Dave Prestin that he is very impressed that we got that done and he is very happy with it,” said Gravelle. “Their presence is beneficial, not only for the students, but just as a community, the Village of Newberry being able to see that we can all come together and continue to support our student successes.”