Matanzas High School and the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office inaugurated the much-anticipated Law and Justice Flagship Program Tuesday morning. The program adds to Matanzas’s well-known finance flagship, started four years ago, and flagships in marine science and plant biotechnology and the culinary arts.
Flagships, spread throughout district schools, emerged five years ago to give students hands-on experience of trades and careers, linking schools with existing industries, agencies and professions and creating bridges between them and students.
Tuesday’s unveiling, anchored by Matanzas Principal Jeff Reaves, drew the presence of Sheriff Rick Staly, Florida House Rep. Paul Renner, several school board members and Donald O’Brien, the county commissioner who chairs the county’s economic development board, among many others.
Renner appears to have been the only lawyer present at the ceremony, an indication suggesting that, as with much of the police-centric paraphernalia on display, the justice side of the equation remains somewhat underrepresented in the program.
Modeled after the fire academy at Flagler Palm Coast High School, the Law and Justice Program introduces students to the inner workings of criminal justice functions such as law enforcement, court proceedings, 911 communications, crime scene investigations and the jail. The course gives students an overview of policing in the United States and around the world. As with the fire academy flagships, the program will enable students to make quicker entry into such fields as policing or whet appetites for careers in law.
For the past couple of years, the fire academy had drawn disproportionate attention, when flagships were discussed, because of its popularity, its direct connection to Flagler County Fire Rescue’s operations and the sheer visibility and stature of firefighters and firefighting in young people’s minds. For Matanzas, whose students often toil in the shadow of the larger school, the Law and Justice flagship may right the balance with a program of equal standing with the fire academy.
“Flagships that have developed as a request of a need from our community have developed into some of our most vibrant programs,” Lynette Shott, executive director of student and community engagement, said. “Just as the Fire Leadership Flagship emerged due to Chief Petito from Flagler County Fire pursuing a pipeline for talent, Sheriff Staly worked closely with Matanzas High School to establish the Law and Justice Flagship.”
The Sheriff’s Office is donating a patrol car and dispatch equipment to the program and sending some of its personnel to advise students. The Flagler Education Foundation will help fund the program, which was developed by students and the school administration in conjunction with the Sheriff’s Office. Staly had sought to develop such a plan after his election, appointing Cmdr. Phil Reynolds to be its point man from the agency’s perspective. “When I first became sheriff I met with then-Superintendent Jacob Oliva and told him I wanted to develop a criminal-justice program similar to the fire academy,” Staly said in February. “He wholeheartedly supported it, and I also met with the school board chairman, Trevor Tucker, who also supported it.” That month, a group of Matanzas students submitted their plan for the academy to the school board. The plan drew praise.
Students will also earn college credit if they are dual enrolled with a local college.
Guest speakers will provide first-hand accounts and their experiences on law enforcement operations to the students. Guests will include members of the sheriff’s Victim Advocate Unit, SWAT, K9, detectives, and others. The first guest speaker was Staly last week.
“This is a great partnership between our agency and Matanzas High School. This program will give students an opportunity to learn about criminal justice,” Staly was quoted as saying in a sheriff’s release issued shortly after the inauguration. “We want to educate students on the many interesting careers they could have in law enforcement, both civilian and sworn, that they can consider after graduation. And, if we have students that are considering a career in law enforcement we wanted to start educating them now and then hire them when they graduate high school or college.”
The Criminal Justice program will be taught by Gloria Barton and Jeremy Ossler. Ossler ran a similar program in Volusia County schools for many years. Barton was a Forensic Investigator and autopsy technician for the Volusia/Seminole Medical Examiner’s Office. She had previously developed the forensic science curriculum at Flagler schools, with the Sheriff’s Office’s participation, and will now focus on new courses within the Matanzas flagship.
“It was exciting to speak to the students at the ribbon cutting this morning and hear their excitement and interest in becoming a part of the Law and Justice career path here in their own community,” Shott said. “These collaborative programs allow not only for students to have content they are excited about, but perhaps even more importantly, they have real opportunities to build networks and relationships with our community members who are in the career path they are pursuing.”