School Safety at ESE

There are multiple levels of safety within a school – feeling safe emotionally, feeling safe to make a mistake in class and then learn from that mistake, and, most importantly, feeling physically safe in a learning environment.  

Often, the awareness of “feeling safe” isn’t something that is at the forefront of most people’s minds; it’s the awareness of potential danger that can cause stress and be a hindrance to learning. The best barometer of students feeling safe in their school is when the students aren’t thinking about the issue of safety at all; they are simply allowed to be kids and learn to the best of their abilities.  

In Haywood County Schools, a School Resource Officer (SRO) is placed on every campus to ensure the physical safety of all students.  SRO’s are trained police officers who have graduated from The Tennessee Law Enforcement Academy and have previous experience as a law enforcement officer.  

The job of an SRO requires a specialized skill set that sets them apart from police officers who are on patrol within a community.  SRO’s must have the ability to build relationships with students, engage with teachers, and, above all, help protect everyone in the school building.

At East Side Elementary School, Ed Robinson’s police work looks and feels quite a bit different than it did a year ago.  Ed joined the SRO team in Haywood County Schools during the 2022-2023 school year after five previous years in law enforcement.  Last school year, Ed split his time between four different schools in HCS, but has found a home this year as the SRO at East Side.  Not only has Ed’s schedule become more consistent, his level of stress has also become more balanced.

“My stress level is way down working in an elementary school as opposed to working the streets,” he explained. “There’s a big difference in the job of an SRO and an officer who’s working the streets. Being in the schools, it’s a lot of community policing – fist bumps, high fives, and hugs. We can do some of that on street patrol, but there are also a lot of calls where that can’t take place.”

The fist bumps, high fives, and hugs that Ed receives on a daily basis come from third and fourth grade students. These students walk in lines to and from the cafeteria; they play outside during recess; they are just scratching the surface of their learning journey. School safety is probably the last thing on their minds, but it’s first and foremost for Ed.

“As my job over safety and security at ESE, I walk around the school multiple times a day to make sure doors are locked and secured.  I watch kids on the playground and whenever they’re outside,” he said. “I even take it a step further – I know it’s my job to keep kids safe, but it’s also my job to keep the adults safe in the building, too.  I take that responsibility seriously.”

Ed’s experience in law enforcement began in Hamilton County where he was part of the Park Police. Originally from West Tennessee, he wanted to move back closer to home and found himself working for the Haywood County Sheriff’s Department.

“I’ve spent five years as an officer  – I started in Hamilton County with Park Police and then moved back to West Tennessee to be closer to home.  I got a job with the Haywood County Sheriff’s Department and then transferred to the Brownsville Police Department,” he explained. 

It was with the BPD that the opportunity arose to be an SRO, and it was something Ed couldn’t pass up.

“I love being an SRO because the schedule aligns with my kids’ schedule.  And, I love being around the kids in a school and the staff, too,” he said.

The most important aspect of Ed’s job – beyond the schedule, beyond the high-fives and hugs – is keeping everyone safe at East Side Elementary. As a parent himself, Ed knows the value of dropping his kids off at school and knowing there is someone there whose sole responsibility is to make sure those kids remain safe throughout the school day.

“The parents and the kids seem to really like the fact that a trained officer is on campus at East Side,” he said.  “I feel like having an SRO on campus is here to stay; I feel like there will be more support built into student safety across the state moving forward, too. Governor Lee wants State Troopers in and around schools to add that extra layer of security.  That’s something Governor Lee has done really well – funding security for schools and keeping students safe.”

Ed also knows that part of keeping schools safe is building relationships with the students and staff in the building; that philosophy also marries well with the HCS mission to know every child by name, strength, and need.

For some students, Ed is the first person they see in the carpool line when they arrive at school and the last person they see as they leave. The relationship between students and adults in the school is vital for social/emotional growth as well as academic growth. It’s also important that kids know they are safe and protected at school. Ed and the rest of the SRO’s in HCS make sure that happens.

“Kids at this age are still young, so that relationship can be built fairly easily,” he said.