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Holland Public Schools hires retired police officer as new safety, security director | #schoolsaftey

HOLLAND, MI – Holland Public Schools has hired a retired police officer to serve as the district’s new director of student safety and security.

Joe Soto, a former officer with the Holland Department of Public Safety, will be responsible for assessing the district’s current safety policies and implementing new security measures in the newly created position, which was approved by the Holland Board of Education on Monday, Aug. 14.

The new position is fully funded by a $357,000 state grant Holland Public Schools received for school safety and security, district spokesperson Jason Craner said. Craner declined to provide Soto’s starting salary – MLive/The Grand Rapids Press has filed a Freedom of Information Act request for his contract agreement.

Soto has served as the school resource officer for Holland High School since 2017. Holland Superintendent Nick Cassidy said Soto’s existing relationships with students and staff and knowledge of the district’s operations made him the perfect pick for the new position.

“I truly believe a position like this is only as good as the person, and you’re never going to find a better person than Joe Soto to sit in that position,” Cassidy told MLive/The Grand Rapids Press. “He knows our community and our kids, and has worked really hard to build relationships. There’s a sense of trust for Joe, and I think that is such a critical piece here.”

Holland school leaders began having discussions around increasing school safety a year ago, during the district’s ongoing strategic planning process, Cassidy explained. School safety and security was a top concern identified by parents across the district, he said.

“We realized that we had some work to do to address some of those safety concerns that as a team we identified,” he said.

Cassidy said the creation of this new position will help assure parents that the district is doing everything possible to make students safe when they come to school each day.

“It’s always going to be our No. 1 priority: Keeping our staff and students safe,” he said. “Investing in that, and having the people there, it’s going to be critical.”

The superintendent said Soto has already gotten to work assessing the district’s facilities and looking for opportunities to enhance security measures.

Under his new role, Soto will be tasked with conducting a districtwide buildings assessment and looking for areas of vulnerability to ensure that Holland’s facilities are safe and secure. He will also assessing the district’s emergency drills and crisis response protocols, in collaboration with local law enforcement.

“While HPS has done a great job being ready for potential emergencies, my first task will be to identify and implement the needed safety and security measures that can be adopted in each of the district’s buildings,” Soto said in a statement provided by the district.

“This new department will also continue to partner with HDPS (Holland Department of Public Safety) and HFD (Holland Fire Department) to update security policies, update and practice emergency drills with students, and to train staff members on threat assessment and crisis communication.”

The district will also be looking to hire several school safety monitors at the middle and high schools to support supervision and to monitor unstructured student time, according to a district news release.

Holland Public Schools, located in Ottawa County, serves roughly 2,800 students. The district plans to welcome students back for the 2023-24 school year on Wednesday, Aug. 23.

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