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West Jefferson Hills' new security director familiar with schools

| Friday, Nov. 3, 2017, 11:00 p.m.

Veteran police officer James Modrak views himself as a resource for the 2,900 students who attend school in the West Jefferson Hills School District.

As the district's newly hired director of security and police officer, Modrak, 56, said he is there to be visible as well as a comfort to students, teachers and parents, and to ensure the district's five schools are safe.

He was hired in September by West Jefferson Hills School District for the newly created position at a salary of $55,000.

The Bethel Park resident, who spent 25 years on the Bethel Park police force including the last 10 years as Bethel Park School District's school resource officer, briefly had entered the private sector, but found he missed working with students. When the West Jefferson Hills position was advertised, he applied right away.

“I missed working in a school environment,” said Modrak, the father of four ages 21 to 28.

Because Modrak is the West Jefferson Hills School District's first-ever director of security, he admits the job is a learning experience. And he relishes the challenge.

“I assist in the morning with the school buses,” said Modrak, who has an office in Thomas Jefferson High School by the front entrance. “I assist the counselors and I try and be as visible as possible.”

“Sometimes we're a little like social workers with a badge,” he said.

The district has a school resource officer in Pleasant Hills who works in both McClellan Elementary School and Pleasant Hills Middle School, as well as one in Jefferson Hills. Modrak serves as the conduit between the resource officers and the district.

“Mr. Modrak brings a wealth of experience and expertise as a community police officer, school resource officer, and school police officer to our district,” said Michael Ghiliani, West Jefferson Hills school superintendent. “He has been charged with coordinating our safety program between all of the schools in the district and working with all of the local police officers. With a more coordinated effort, the safety and security of our students and staff will be greatly enhanced.”

One of the challenges given to Modrak is security for the new $95 million, 300,000-square-foot Thomas Jefferson High School. The current high school was built in 1959.

The school is slated to open next summer. As part of Ghiliani's emphasis on safety, parts of the school will have their own entry ways — the swimming pool and gymnasium — which can be locked off from the rest of the school.

Since he started his new position, Modrak said he has been surprised about how rapidly the district is growing. And even though Bethel Park is a larger school district, issues remain are the same. “I always try and remember what it was like when we were kids,” he said.

Suzanne Elliott is a Tribune-Review staff writer. She can be reached at selliott@tribweb.com or 412-871-2346.

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