Written by Craig Schreiner | Photos by Craig Schreiner
Corey Saffold projects the confidence of one who walks on solid ground.
As a former Madison police officer, current head of safety and security for the Verona Area School District and a Black man who is an authority on police-community relations, Saffold — who is also a criminology major at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater — draws on a solid foundation of experience.
“I’ve always tried to bring my life experiences to add value to whatever situation I am in,” said Saffold, 41, who attends classes online as a nontraditional student at UW-Whitewater on a path to earn a Bachelor of Science.
Saffold, head of safety and security for the Verona Area School District, works at his desk at Verona Area High School. Saffold is also completing his criminology B.S. at UW-Whitewater fully online.
Now Saffold can add serving as regent on the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents to his life experiences. The UW System, which appoints two student regents — one traditional and one nontraditional — to two-year terms with full duties including voting and serving on committees, selected Saffold in a competitive process.
Gov. Tony Evers appointed Saffold, who also sits on the Office of School Safety Advisory Committee at the Wisconsin Department of Justice, on June 1, 2020.
Saffold served as a City of Madison police officer for 10 years, learning about community policing and criminal justice from the inside. For six of those years, he was assigned in public schools. But his path to policing began much earlier, during an encounter with law enforcement as a youth growing up in Milwaukee.
“My influence (to become a police officer) was a detective in Milwaukee who gave me a second chance,” he said. “I realized that I can give people the same opportunity that was afforded to me, which was a second chance and an education.
“When I was a police officer in schools, I would use moments where there were disciplinary matters as an opportunity to educate students,” he explains. “Too often, teenagers can do things that they don’t fully understand the consequences of. Rather than throw the book at them, if they can receive an education about that one thing they did, that can go a long way for everybody in the society.”
That philosophy of personal policing brought Saffold to the UW-Whitewater criminology program to further his understanding of why people step outside the law.
“Was it the environment?” he asks. “Is it a problem with opportunity, joblessness, homelessness, need? Criminology answers a lot of questions for us in terms of human behavior.”
Saffold credits UW-Whitewater for making degrees accessible to nontraditional students through online learning. By anyone’s estimate, he leads a demanding life.
On a recent July afternoon, Saffold was in his office at Verona Area High School. He develops safety training and emergency procedures for weather and all manner of other incidents which might threaten his schools. As a staff member, he attends school board meetings, a recent one lasting until almost midnight. He hires security staff. At the end of his day, Saffold met with a salesperson outside the school building to discuss equipment options for the school’s utility vehicle.
Corey Saffold, left, talks with a salesperson about equipment for a utility vehicle at Verona Area High School on July 14, 2020.
He is the father of a teenage son who attends high school in Madison and a daughter, 22, who plans to attend law school. Before the pandemic hit, he traveled across the state to speak to groups on police-community relations.
As he begins his second year at Verona, Saffold and his staff will oversee a new high school building of almost 600,000 square feet and a campus that will accommodate up to 2,200 students in addition to the eight other schools they manage.
“I hope to graduate (from UW-Whitewater) next year,” he said. “And this will sound funny, but I don’t really keep track of when I’ll graduate. Working full time, I take classes as I can take them. But after I receive my B.S., I plan to apply for law school at UW-Madison.”
“Right now, I’m doing political science, the Constitution and the police,” he said. “’Policing and the Constitution’ is the name of the class. So that’s perfect. I’m reading case law that I’ve already practiced. I’ve lived this, so it’s quite interesting.”
Saffold embraces his role as the voice of nontraditional students at UW System campuses.
“It is an honor to be on the board and it’s an honor to even be considered,” he said. “Whether it’s a nontraditional student in a rural area who works on a farm or if it’s increasing enrollment for our nontraditional students of color who come out of Milwaukee or Madison, I want to be part of that.”
Whether or not the nation’s current focus on unity, recovery and stability influenced his appointment to the Board Regents, Saffold calls himself an optimist about the future.
“Black lives do matter, and I want to move beyond just saying that, to put in place actionable items that shape that,” he said. “I want the students to feel like they have a voice in this and to feel like they are listened to. I want to empower and equip our leaders — our chief diversity officers, our student affairs folks — with the resources they need to make sure our schools are welcoming.”
And his optimism extends to the UW System’s ability to navigate the challenges ahead.
“COVID-19 has had an impact on the whole UW System — both financially and on the students. We’re very concerned about the students, faculty and staff and their welfare. Foreign exchange students should be able to stay here to attend school. I’m confident in our president, (former U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services Secretary and Wisconsin Governor) Tommy Thompson. I’m confident that he will successfully navigate the UW System through these waters.”
And he has some words of advice for his colleagues and community.
“Think about your classmate or your colleague or coworker and think of ways to help them. If we all thought of someone other than ourselves to support, then we all would be supported,” he said. “Other than that — be safe.”