TOWN OF TONAWANDA, N.Y. (WIVB) — The halls of a local high school at bell change: Noise, emotion, seeming disorder. But there’s order at Kenmore East. In fact there’s law and order walking the halls everyday.
Scott Zenosky is a nearly 24-year veteran of the force in Tonawanda, nearly the past third of which he’s spent at Kenmore East, his alma mater. As proof of that, he has his old blue and gold Letterman jacket hanging on a door inside his cramped office.
“I use it sort of as a conversation starter,” he says smiling.
The office is small, but it’s no worry. The school resource officer spends most of his time on his feet. Rather than patrolling the streets or neighborhoods like his colleagues, Zenosky’s beat consists of the school’s parking lot in the mornings, bustling hallways, cafeteria and classrooms.
That’s where he found himself early Thursday, with a script in hand.
“They wanted me to have a speaking part in their play,” Zenosky remembered, chuckling.
The father of four (boys) has a special connection with students, many at East said. He considers himself lucky to have been chosen for the program when he applied back in 2007.
But that should rest with the thousand or so students at East, who are lucky enough to have a unique confidant in a cop.
“Officer Scott personally, has probably a personal connection with every person in this school,” said senior Alexandria Sorrento. “If you ask anyone that this school, they can tell you about a personal encounter with him.”
Sophomore Jacob Aguglia can attest to that. He was there Thursday morning when Zenosky rehearsed his lines in front of the class.
“To be totally honest, the uniform can give you a bit of intimidation,” Aguglia said. “But really, once you are in the school for a while and you realize how things work, he’s really not the tough, scary person that you would expect.”
But it’s also somewhat surprising. Aguglia, Sorrento and the rest of the America saw this week the brutal viral video featuring a South Carolina sheriff’s deputy ripping a student from her desk when she refused to leave class.
“I’m open and honest with these kids, I’m not here to be their enemy,” Zenosky said. “I’m not here to make arrests. I’m not here to bully them in any way. I am here as their friend, mentor, a father figure sometimes, a counselor, a teacher and if I have to enforce the law, I’m a law enforcement officer as well.”
The students feel it too. The daily interaction isn’t forced or uncomfortable. He knows most by first name, the sports they play, the clubs in which they participate, where they should be at any given time of the day.
Beyond the personal, there’s a practical reason for the district’s SRO program, one of many in practice across Western New York.
“Having Scott, having an SRO in the building is really about being proactive and not reactive,” said Principal Patrick Heyden. “Because he’s out there making those inroads with the students, using his personality, his sense of humor, but also earning the respect of the community, he puts the work in on the front end.”
When the video of the now-fired sheriff’s deputy surfaced, it struck a chord with Zenosky. It’s not because he’s never had to enforce the rules — or even the law — at school, but because he says he employs certain practices to prevent such an escalation.
“I don’t know the whole story,” he said of the incident in South Carolina. “I don’t know what led up to that video. I don’t know what happened after the cameras were turned off. But just from the few second video that I saw, it appears that he used excessive force. That there were probably other ways to handle it.”
And it all starts on the first day of school.
“I have found over the years that if you treat (students) like human beings and give them just a little bit of respect and give them the time of day, they will in turn, respect you and work with you” he said.
It’s also easy to see Zenosky loves what he does. It was the perfect change of pace he said he needed after working the town streets for 16 years.
“People call us when things go bad. It’s a depressing job. You see people at their worst,” he said. “It’s a little bit different here. I see kids and they’re the future of our country and you can help them out just by talking to them, just by letting them know you care about them. I love it. I really do.”