The start of the 2014-2015 school year ushered in huge changes for the Coronado Unified School District. Though budget cuts abound — CUSD has a projected deficit of nearly $3 million this year — Coronado Middle School (CMS) and Coronado High School (CHS) have gained a resource: a school police officer.
Mayor Casey Tanaka explained that in the past year, Coronado’s new police chief, Jon Froomin, examined the budget and was able to move one of his officers out of a regional task force to create an assignment for a school resource officer. “The new assignment doesn’t cost the city extra money because the reorganization was done within our existing staffing at the Coronado Police Department (CPD),” he said.
Tanaka brought this idea to light, he said, “after working with former principal Karl Mueller on an ad hoc committee and having discussions about how many of Coronado students have had negative experiences with police officers.”
“We felt that there was an opportunity to create a positive context for students to interact with the CPD by bringing a school resource officer onto CUSD campuses. Students could ask questions and start a dialogue in a threat-free, non-adversarial situation with an officer who would be on campus, around the district, on a regular basis.”
After an extensive interview process, Officer Sherri Mannello was selected for the job.
Mannello, who has a bachelor’s degree in political science and master’s degree in conflict resolution and mediation, spent 12 years as a deputy sheriff in Orange County before relocating to Coronado in 2010. Mannello and her husband, who’s in the Navy, have a 2-year-old son.
A typical day for Mannello begins at 7:30 am. “I make sure students are wearing their helmets and abiding by the rules of the road on their way to school,” she said. “I also try to be available if students have questions or just want to say ‘good morning.’ I think that students really enjoy knowing that I’m just a normal person and it’s OK to say hello.”
After the morning rush, Mannello heads over to CMS to teach the GREAT (Gang Resistance Education and Training) program to sixth grade students.
“The GREAT Program helps kids understand violence, gangs, drugs, and how to avoid becoming a part of those communities,” said Mannello, whose class of sixth graders rotates quarterly. “More than that, we’re teaching them about good choices, communication skills, and anger management.”
Since the GREAT program’s inception across the United States and South America in 1991, gang membership has seen a 33 percent drop in communities that teach the curriculum. “This program works, and I believe in it,” said Mannello.
Mannello also aids administrators at the high school. “When we’re faced with a matter that may need police involvement, we have the advantage of using a police officer who has a student’s best interest in mind versus calling a police officer who doesn’t have as much experience with youth, or doesn’t know our students or our staff,” CHS Principal Jenny Moore said. She has found Mannello to be “terrific” when it comes to dealing with cyberbullying issues, in particular. “It’s nice to have someone that we trust and who also works so well with students,” Moore said.
Perhaps the greatest clash of wills between the Coronado Police Department and local high school students occurs over the use of bike helmets. “We warn them about wearing helmets, and they often bemoan a ticket with indignity,” she said. “But we do care about them. We’re here for them, not against them. That’s what the Coronado Police Department is hoping comes across with me spending time on campus.”
The term of the school resource officer is three years. In 2017, CUSD and the City Council will reevaluate the necessity of the position. “If needed, I will certainly speak up for how much she has assisted us,” said Moore. “I believe that students realize that having her on campus has been beneficial to them, too.”