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Safety & security team expands with retired police officers

New coordinator focuses on prevention, responsiveness

Wyoming — Moments after a Wyoming High School student posted a message pertaining to self harm on a Google Doc connected to the district’s internet system, a program called Gaggle alerted staff members.

The Wyoming Police Department interceded, and within moments the child was located at his home and transported to the hospital. 

The district had installed Gaggle on Dec. 11, 2023. 

“A month later it already saved a life,” Superintendent Craig Hoekstra said.

Gaggle is an online safety management software that uses a combination of artificial intelligence and trained safety experts to assist in the prevention of student suicide, bullying, inappropriate behaviors, school violence and other harmful situations. 

The district implemented the software as part of expanded safety and security measures and initiatives including more personnel, several who are retired Wyoming Police Department officers. Heading those efforts is Joe Steffes, safety and security coordinator, a position added last September. 

Steffes, a retired Wyoming Police Department lieutenant, has also created the district’s Emergency Operations Plan and leads training tied to it. He has updated evacuation maps; been involved in reunification trainings, updated lockdown procedures; purchased handheld radios for staff; and added backpacks with medical supplies to school resources.

‘My team (are) relationship builders; that’s what they do. They gain trust with these kids and staff.’ 

— Joe Steffes, safety and security coordinator

As with the Gaggle incident, the close relationship with the police department is critical, Steffes said. 

“My job here is to utilize some of my past expertise on safety and security to guide the district through the times we are in,” said Steffes, whose office is at Wyoming High School.

More ‘Trusted Adults’ & Support

Steffes and several other staff members make up a network of highly skilled individuals he said are ready to address any situation that arises, and to serve as support for students. Steffes was on the police force for 29 years, serving in a range of roles. He oversees four new security team members who are also former Wyoming police officers.

Joe Steffes, safety and security coordinator, is tasked with security-related initiatives

He also works closely with two school resource officers, Ben Mouch and Tony Jacobs, hired through the Wyoming Police Department. (The SROs have official arresting powers, which retired officers no longer have.)

A third layer of the team is student advocates, several of whom work out of the school buildings and develop close relationships with students. Mike Moore, a student advocate at Wyoming Intermediate School is also a retired police officer and SRO. 

“My team (are) relationship builders; that’s what they do,” Steffes said. “They gain trust with these kids and staff.”

Bringing retired officers in as security personnel utilizes long-standing relationships the district has with the police department, Hoekstra said. The SRO program dates back many years. 

Schools have for years been working to increase and standardize safety and security measures to address incidents of school violence and shootings nationwide. 

“In today’s climate, we knew we needed to do more,” Hoekstra said. “I’ve always felt that we have safe schools, but I don’t care what your ZIP code (is) or where in the country or world you are, there are always going to be things that are unexpected that you have to confront.”

Having Steffes lead a team of professionals helps fulfill the mission of  providing a safe and secure learning environment so students and teachers can focus on teaching and learning, Hoekstra said.

“Bringing Joe on board has been nothing short of amazing. He is a highly skilled professional who works wonderfully with our staff, students, parents and community. His skill set is important, as adding elements of safety and security is a delicate process,” Hoekstra said. 

“You cannot simply add for the sake of adding in a given area, but must do so with intention and purpose. It is much more than simply adding elements of a given thing; you must take into account all relevant variables.”

Read more from Wyoming: 
Second-grade teacher: literacy is a civil right
Non-profit brings drive-up vision care to schools

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is managing editor and reporter, covering Kentwood, Lowell and Wyoming. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013, and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio


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