(Harlan, Ky.) – No stranger to the Green Dragon campus, newly installed School Resource Officer (SRO) Derrick Akal, officially extended his role beyond the sidelines of the basketball court. Akal took office as the Chief of the Harlan Independent School District Police Department in November and officially was sworn in by Harlan District Court Judge, Scott Lisenbee at the Board of Education offices on Thursday.
Superintendent C.D. Morton refreshed board members on the steps it has taken for the district to employ a full-time School-Based Law Enforcement Officer. Noting that the origins of the work started with House Bill 63 which was passed in the last legislative session. The bill required all school districts to employ a full-time certified school resources officer by August 1, 2022. “This has been a very bureaucratic process to get to this point, but we are finally there. There is an enormous shortage of qualified candidates to fill the SRO positions across the state and the funding required is 100% local investment from local school districts. However, we will look back on this and ask, why did it take so long to get this resource into our schools. I am confident it will make our schools and communities safer.”
When asked about transitioning from the Harlan County Sheriff’s office to Harlan Independent, Akal commented that his entire adult life has been in public service. “What better way to give back to a community, than to serve the youth! To be able to enhance the safety of the school and our community while working with young people is an honor. Reaching students early is one of the keys to success. If I can help steer a kid in the right direction early, I am hopeful it will make a difference down the road. The experience I bring from my time in the Army and the Sheriff’s office serves me well in this new capacity.”
In addition to a wide range of counseling services, Morton noted that the district currently employs two additional staff members serving in other roles with extensive police force experience throughout the district. “We currently have a School-Based Mental Health Counselor, three full-time School Guidance Counselors, a School Resource Officer, a retired Kentucky State Trooper on staff, as well as a Middle School Math teacher that served as Chief of Police for a number of years. While some of these folks serve in other roles, their knowledge is invaluable when it comes to school safety.”
Faculty and staff are pleased with the new addition to the district and see many benefits now and in the future. Harlan High School Spanish Teacher, Dr. Hadassah Weiner, whose son serves as an SRO in Florida, noted, “The whole community is impacted by having a full-time School Resource Officer available. The SRO also serves as a role model to build meaningful relations with students including awareness, making the right decisions, and respect. Partnerships are created by uniting the whole community to reach the main goal which is to provide opportunities, counseling, and safe environments where children can grow and strive in a wholesome environment. There is no doubt, that students respond positively to having such resources on a daily basis.”
Kerri McCarthy, a Middle School English Teacher, sees a big benefit to having someone in the building that students are familiar with and feel comfortable talking to when needed. “No doubt about it, his presence makes a difference, kids feel comfortable talking with him and in the end, it gives them one more person they can reach out to if needed.”
Second Grade teacher, Michelle Doss, loves the fact that elementary kids have someone they can see regularly and can look up to. “Our students need as many positive role models as possible. Now that they see an officer in our buildings every day, it will serve as an inspiration to many of them. This is a great resource.”
Anne Pope Lindsey, Special Education teacher offered, “Officer Akal brings many years of experience in law enforcement to our school community. As the Resource Officer, his presence encourages an environment of safety within our school and fosters positive interactions between law enforcement officers, educators, and the youth of our district. Officer Akal's presence within our school promotes a positive school climate in all of our schools.”
Akal is a graduate of Cumberland High School and has served as Head Boys and Girls Basketball coach at Harlan High School for 12 years. He is trained through the Department of Criminal Justice.