This week I witnessed a solemn celebration of the contributions of one of my school district’s true servants.  I was proud to know and work with Officer Myron Sander.  I often spent time visiting with him and did so in the parking lot as I was leaving just a few days before his passing.  It wasn’t what I would call a deep conversation, yet it was meaningful.  We discussed the Oklahoma City Thunder, the weather and current renovation projects — “small talk.”  But it wasn’t really small.  Officer Sander didn’t see small people or small moments.  He treated all with respect.  It didn’t matter if they were a staff member, parent or student from our district or someone just visiting our campus.  He was in the moment and present for whoever he was dealing with.  He was friendly.  He was kind.  He was humble.  He was compassionate.  He was caring.  He was a problem-solver.  He was a law enforcement officer that served the students, staff and community of Jenks Public Schools since 2001.

Officer Sander usually worked the shift at night and many times early in the morning or late at night, if I was around, I would find him driving the campus and checking on things.  I always knew his headlights as I approached the school, and he seemed to know mine as well.  There was at least a wave, if not a pause for a brief conversation with two cars pulled up next to each other.  If there was an issue with a door not locking or an alarm going off or a staff member needing into the building, I knew I could call the after-hours duty line and Officer Sander could be counted on to meet the need.  He didn’t just do this for me.  He did it for everyone.

Campus Police Chief Jason Smith made some remarks at the memorial held on our football field.  It was a fitting location as Officer Sander would be found on many Friday nights standing in the corner of the end zone ready to assist a parent, patron, student or just make connections and build relationships through his conversation as well as cheer on the Trojans.  There were times of  needs with injuries or falls or medical alerts, and Officer Sander was a calming presence.  In the remarks made at the memorial Wednesday, Chief Smith recalled a statement made by another long-time Jenks Campus Police officer, former Assistant Chief Perry Marler.  Officer Marler had made the observation that “it takes a special police officer to work for a school district.”

I truly believe it takes a special person to serve others through law enforcement as well as other first responders, and I’m very proud of some of my former students who are currently working with local police and fire departments.  Officer Marler’s observation is remarkably accurate.  Not only are there the stress and pressures of public safety needs associated with any public agency, there are additional responsibilities to deal with young people ranging from ages four to nineteen, serve as role models, intervene in emotionally-charged times and be approachable.  I’m sure many of our campus police officers take their work home with them just as our educators do when they hurt for a child in a state of crisis.  I’m sure they have good days and bad days just like we all do as we try to do our best for kids.  I know I have worked with some incredible officers who intervened not merely professionally, but perhaps more importantly compassionately.  Officer Sander was always someone I expected to treat me with dignity and humanity, and I will miss those interactions and that feeling of well-being his presence brought.

At the conclusion of the ceremony, after the presentation of colors from an honor guard, a three-volley salute and the playing of taps, I thought of so many who care for our students and demonstrate that concern in a number of ways.  It takes many different individuals and their talents, energies and abilities to meet student needs and to ensure their physical, mental and emotional safety in order to provide the proper learning environment.  I regret that although I had spoken to Officer Sander many times, I didn’t find enough opportunities to express my respect and gratitude to him.  If I was locked out and he came and let me in, I said thank you.  If I called him and he was going to secure a building I couldn’t get locked, I said thank you.  But I don’t know that I ever shared with him, or so many others in our district, that I truly valued the contribution they were making for young people.  I’m sorry for that.  I hope this is a small representation of my gratitude to Officer Sander, his family who graciously shared him with us, other members of our Campus Police Department as well as numerous other individuals who do what they do for kids.  To conclude the ceremony, Chief Smith gave the assurance that “…we will hold the line from here.”  An outline of his remarks and some photos from the Facebook post are linked below as well as a link to Officer Sander’s obituary.

I hope all of us will work with renewed resolve to “hold the line” for the safety and well-being of young people.  I hope we will find opportunities to express gratitude to so many who put their own well-being on the line to serve and protect us.  We don’t live in a perfect world and it will take all of us working together to make it better.  But I appreciate the humble example of Officer Myron Sander to serve the way he did.  He did it for them, so surely I can try to do it for them each day as well.

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