With 27 years of experience and 23 continuous years at Windham Police Department, School Resource Officer Jeff Smith will officially retire from Windham this fall. His last official day at Windham High School is November 23, but he will stay on part time to help train the next officer until the end of the year.
“I love this job,” Smith said. Smith has been the SRO for 11 years at WHS. “It’s very difficult for me to leave this place.” He will continue on as the radio consultant at the school and will be back for sporting events, he said.
“He’s been a very important component to the police department. He is the first and only school resource officer we’ve ever had,” said Police Chief Kevin Schofield. “There will be big shoes to fill.”
“Jeff had impacted the high school in so many ways over the years. First, in his role as police officer, he has improved the level of security of our building and has bridged the gap between students in our community and the Windham Police Department,” said Principal Christopher Howell. “Beyond his role as officer, Jeff has served as a mentor, a social worker, a voice of reason, a referee, and as a friend of students. He has been willing to try most anything to support students as they made their journey through Windham High School. Jeff has also impacted the building in regards to the safety that he provides us on a daily basis. I am absolute confident that Jeff would head into harm’s way to protect the staff and students at our school.”
When Smith applied to be the first SRO he knew that there was a need for someone to be in the school. His life experiences have given him a perspective that not all officers have.
“I’m a behind the scene’s guy,” Smith said. He has done many things out of the spotlight to keep students and their families comforted and safe. He has provided his cell phone number so he can be reached at any time by parents or students. He’s the first person to respond in a crisis and has been a shoulder to cry on during tragedies, said Howell. Smith is straight forward and honest when addressing students. He doesn’t mince words.
“Jeff’s greatest contributions to Windham High School have been through the relationships that he has built during the time in his position,” Howell said. Smith still hears from students he has counseled and worked with over the years.
The culture of the school has changed in the last 11 years. When Smith first began at the high school, there was a lot of police work, mostly around theft in the cafeteria. “Hungry kids were stealing food,” he said. In 2007, he started a lunch fund and thefts decreased from two or three a week to one a month.
“Now a lot less of my job has to do with law enforcement. Ninety-eight percent has nothing to do with it,” he added. He credits a lot of the culture change to having the Rachel’s Challenge speakers come to the school. Rachel was one of the first victims in the Columbine shootings. The first time the auditorium was packed with parents and students to hear the night time presentation. Students became more kind and filled with compassion. They are turning in money they find, from $4 to $40. “That’s how much this thing has evolved,” Smith said. “My biggest accomplishment is being there for these kids when they need me. I’m still hearing from kids that graduated when I first started.”
Smith earns their respect by helping whenever he can. He’s like an extra parent often helping kids get home to pick up computers, projects, homework and whatever else they might need.
His success according to Schofield has been, “The ability to become ingrained in the school community in general. He’s a natural at knowing the kids and dealing with them on a personal level, supporting them through scholastic needs and dealing with issues in and out of school. He’s approachable.”
Smith’s retirement job will be with Falmouth Police Department where he has worked part time for many years.
“I’m thankful I’ve had the opportunity to help raise these kids because it takes a village to raise kids,” Smith said.
Interviews for the new SRO are being held on Friday. Students should be informed soon after.
Photo: SRO Jeff Smith sits with seniors Andrew Lawyer and Rachel Cushman before he retires from Windham Police Department on November 23.