NEW PORT RICHEY — With an emotion-filled voice, Jose Vazquez thanked those gathered at Marchman Technical College on June 27. There were dozens of police officers and school personnel — from Superintendent Kurt Browning to Seven Springs Elementary principal Todd Cluff — who announced Vazquez as Pasco County's School Security Guard of the Year.
It was the first time the award has been presented, and Cluff heaped praise on Vazquez.
"He's definitely the person you want at your school," said Cluff, confirming Vazquez's passion for making sure students and staff are safe.
Also present were Vazquez's wife, Carmen, and son, Jayden, who recently completed Seven Springs' fifth grade. Daughter, Delayla, is a Mitchell High School junior.
"I'm very protective, and now I protect 500 little angels at Seven Springs," Vazquez said in an earlier interview.
When Cluff received the message inviting principals to nominate their security guards, he forwarded the request to staff and received a flood of responses praising Vazquez.
Following the February 2018 school shooting in Parkland, Florida, the state legislature passed a law that required every Florida elementary school to have an armed security guard beginning in August 2018.
Pasco County law enforcement and district school officials planned together how this would be accomplished.
"Pasco really got this right with selecting guards from former law enforcement officers or retired military," said Vazquez.
Vazquez, 42, has 20 years of law enforcement experience and is under contract with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, responsibilities he fills when school is not in session.
"My supervisor, Lt. Kevin Young, gave me his full support when I told him I was considering a position as a school security guard," Vazquez said. Shelves in Vazquez's Seven Springs office display more than two dozen citations, awards, training certificates and badges — the display a surprise created by Vazquez's family. It's a 22-year timeline of Vazquez's police and security work from Puerto Rico to Baltimore and beyond.
Starting at Seven Springs in August 2018, Vazquez knew it would take time for parents and kids to feel comfortable with an armed guard. He also knew his role meant being involved with staff and community members and being helpful to students in many ways.
"He's always present, always quietly watching what's going on," said Cluff.
When the announcement of Vazquez's award went out on the school's Facebook page, parents responded with gratitude, thanking Vazquez for taking care of their children and being involved in the community.
Vazquez quickly turned the praise countywide.
"Pasco County has to be really proud of every school safety guard," Vazquez said. "They are the top of the top of the right people."
The awards are sponsored by the Pasco Education Foundation. The selection committee consisted of the Youth Services Leadership Team and members of the Pasco County Sheriff's Office. Other 2018-1019 winners are: School Resource Officer of the Year – Cpl. Mark Ammiano, Wiregrass Ranch High School; School Resource Officer Community Outreach – Cpl. Jennifer Rongo, Cypress Creek Middle/High School; School Administrator of the year, Jessica Schultz, Mitchell High School; and School Related Personnel of the Year – Laura Brochu, Charles S. Rushe Middle School.
Gail Diederich is a retired Pasco County teacher of 32 years. She writes feature stories with an education focus for Pasco and Hernando counties. She can be reached at email@example.com.