There was a time when breaking up fights and maintaining security at Novato schools fell to the police department.
But for the past three years, the task has been relegated to a private company Novato Unified School District officials credit with boosting attendance, reducing suspensions and providing an outlet for children and teens at risk of alcohol and drug use.
It’s an unusual arrangement, to be sure, but one that became a necessity following cuts to the city’s budget in 2010. To fill the void, NUSD turned to North Bay Security Group, run by Bill Welch, a former with the Novato Police Department.
Today, there are two full-time “security consultants” who visit schools, help administrators resolve behavioral issues and conduct home visits to find out why a student is missing school. A full-time drug and alcohol intervention specialist was recently hired and now regularly meets with students considered at risk.
“To have someone who responds immediately and can work with students and their families is extremely important for us,” said Lynn Erikson, coordinator of student services at NUSD.
“They (the security officers) don’t have a uniform and it’s easier for students to talk them. It’s not as scary as dealing with a police officer...Bill is very calm; He’ll talk to the students and say things like ‘Tell me whats going.’ He really relates to kids.”
Erikson credits Welch and his team with increasing attendance by up to 5 percent, which helps bringing money into the district. School districts receive money from the state based on Average Daily Attendance. The district, in turn, pays $230,000 a year to the company, $40,000 of which is offset by a grant from the Haas Family Foundation.
Another bonus is the support the consultants provide kids who have behavioral issues or have been caught with alcohol or marijuana long before they are arrested for a crime.
“I realized there was a gap for intervention for kids who weren't on probation,” said Welch. "Our intervention specialist fills that gap.”
Support before a kid gets into trouble or winds up part of the criminal justice system is a big theme for the Welch. North Bay Security Group consultants also do home visits to find out why a student is not attending, something school resource officers never did.
Other times, they hand parents a card and tell them to phone if they have concerns or issues with their children.“It’s not just the district that benefits,” said NUSD's Erikson. "Students, parents, families all win too."
Stay in the loop about what's going on in your community. Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. You can also subscribe to receive our breaking news alerts for real-time coverage of events.