School doesn't start until September, but Eric Muller and Mike Grigas, the two deputies in the Saratoga County Sheriff's Office who will be stationed at the Shenendehowa Central School District as resource officers, are starting their work now.
Muller and Grigas were selected this month by Shen officials as the officers best suited to work in district schools. The pair, who have both been in the sheriff's department for at least a decade, are heading into uncharted territory.
Shen has not had a resource officer in years, but in the wake of a high school shooting in Florida in February and a program through which the sheriff's department and school districts will work together to provide resource officers to buildings, a number of deputies recently went through a training program to prepare them for the role.
"This is fantastic opportunity to help hundreds of people," Grigas said.
Grigas has been with the sheriff’s office since 2000. Before that, he worked as an accountant and accounting clerk.
Muller has been with the sheriff’s office since 2005. He previously worked as a federal air marshal and a correction officer. He also serves in the National Guard.
Grigas and Muller both have children and are comfortable working with students of various ages, which they said was probably a contributing factor in why they were picked to work in a school as large and diverse as Shen.
But they both think having a resource available for students in the form of a law enforcement official can be a positive thing.
"I believe in it. I believe it's a necessity," Muller said, adding that he has a vested interest in helping Shen now because his newborn son will be attending school there in a few years. "I'm proud to be a part of it."
Muller and Grigas are also prepared for their jobs to be different every day, depending on what school in the district they're at, the activities that are going on or what the Shen administration asks them to do.
Muller has been at Shen almost every day since January as part of the constant presence that the sheriff's department maintains on campus, but said in his new role being at Shen both as students arrive for the day and in the afternoon will probably be a priority.
While Muller said he will probably spend a majority of his time across some of the district's eight elementary schools, and Grigas plans to have a frequent presence around the three middle schools, both officers said maintaining an unpredictable schedule is crucial to their mission of keeping the district safe.
"Part of security is not being predictable," Grigas said. "We have to be completely unpredictable."
"Every Monday might not be every Monday." Muller added. Both of them expect to be in constant communication both with each other and with a few school officials, who will know where they are at all times.
Besides security, the officers will also play the role of confidantes and resources for students.
They both know that it won't be possible to develop a close relationship with every student at Shen, of which there are almost 10,000, but helping just one child, or being able to answer one parent's question, they said, would mean that they're succeeding at the jobs.
A challenge that they will have to face head-on though, Grigas said, is trying to balance their role as a law enforcement officer and their role as someone students are comfortable speaking to. Some students, they said, may have only dealt with police officers in negative situations, and could be afraid to approach them. Both officers will be armed, and wearing some iteration of a police uniform.
"Some people have set in their heads what they think a policeman is," Grigas said. "One of the things we have to do is make this a real person. We're not going to walk around like soldiers. We're not robots. We can't go in there and be unapproachable."
For Muller, who coaches youth baseball, letting students know that they don't have to be formal while interacting with him is important.
"I have no problem with the first-name basis. If you see me at Lowes, or around town, you can come up and talk to me. I am more than willing to listen," he said. He noted that while he fully expects to be wearing an outfit that clearly identifies him as a police officer, he would also be open to being flexible depending on what the district wants to for the day, whether it's asking him to take part in school activities or events like field days. "I'm not going to sit on the sidelines."
Grigas and Muller both expect their jobs to evolve as time goes on, and as both the school district and sheriff's office continue to communicate.
The officers are now visiting campus to meet with school principals and other faculty members. Once school starts, Grigas and Muller said, visiting classrooms would be an ideal way of introducing themselves to the students. Shen, they said, is not just a school district, but an entire community that they need to become familiar with, and be open to working as a team.
"We're there for them. Whatever that takes. Whatever they need," Muller said.