This fall, as Western Reserve Academy welcomed students back to campus, the school also welcomed Joe Bernabei as its new director of safety & security. No stranger to the town of Hudson or to the WRA campus, Bernabei is a 16-year veteran of the Hudson police force, working for the past 15 years as the city's juvenile officer. Bernabei is now responsible for all aspects of safety and security on the school's 190-acre campus.
"Joe Bernabei has extensive experience in security and youth services," commented Head of School Christopher Burner '80. "He will be an excellent addition to the community and create a system to enhance school security."
According to Director of Facilities Jeff Jacot, the creation of Bernabei's position is part of a larger safety and security plan that the school has implemented.
"All schools have a heightened awareness of security issues, and because Reserve is such an open campus, the need is obvious," Jacot said. Since the fall of 2007, when the school hired RETA Security to visit the campus and provide a complete safety and security assessment, Jacot and his team have been putting a variety of additional safety measures into place. "For instance, we've limited access by installing exterior and interior electronic locks on dormitory doors, and we've also implemented an emergency mass notification system."
Another important aspect of the school's plan is a 24-hour security presence on campus.
"Hiring Joe is a big part of this effort," Jacot added. "He's in the process of creating and organizing his own department and shepherding its growth." In addition, Bernabei is responsible for overseeing the school's compliance with a wide variety of local, state and federal safety regulations, and serves as a resource for faculty, staff and students on safety, security and substance abuse-related matters.
In an article in Security Director News, Bernabei talked about the challenges dealing with high school students.
"When dealing with juveniles, there are always concerns because they're not as mature as college students," he said. "We're dealing with a group of kids that are between 14- and 18-years-old and, for many, this is their first time away from home. You always want to talk to students to educate them about not leaving doors open and a lot of it is common sense stuff, but teenagers lose track of that, especially at a place where they feel safe."
Although he's still settling into his new position, Bernabei is excited about the opportunities and challenges ahead.
"I felt it was time in my life to move on to something different," said Bernabei, "and I saw myself going to a school system and being in charge of security. I'm looking forward to developing a rapport with this group of kids, and building strong relationships with faculty and staff, as well. It's going great so far."
An Army veteran and former head of security at Geauga Lake Amusement Park, Bernabei began his police career in Chagrin Falls before joining the Hudson force in 1993. "For the past 15 years I've been working strictly with kids," he commented, "and over the years I've had opportunities to work with WRA deans Jeff Warner and Brand Closen and other members of the school's administrative team." Bernabei has another WRA connection, as well: his wife, Yong, is a longtime member of the school's food service staff. The Bernabeis are residents of Uniontown and have two children: Michelle (21) and Joey (17).
Bernabei is the current president of the Ohio Police Juvenile Officers' Association. Founded in 1961, the association brings together police officers, counselors, judges and others who work with youth to foster study and exchange ideas and methods for handling and counseling youths and their parents with respect to law enforcement.