‘I would die for these kids:’ Matanzas High School deputy on 13 years protecting students

John Landi now trains other school resource deputies

FLAGLER COUNTY, Fla. – This year in Flagler County, there are 13 school resource deputies (SRDs) protecting children, including two at both high schools.

One of those SRDs is among the longest-serving in Flagler County and the sheriff’s office believes that his experience is paying off, making all SRDs countywide better and all schools safer.

Deputy John Landi grew up in Flagler County and has been serving Palm Coast’s Mantanzas High School for the past 13 years.

For an SRD, that’s a lot of time. But Landi is just as invested 13 years later as he was on his first day on the job.

“I love working with kids,” Landi said. “Once I came to the sheriff’s office, I started coaching. My first job was coaching girls softball and giving back to the community. And then I started coaching baseball. My son was born and I wanted to be home with him every day in the evenings and not working nights and I wanted to go to the schools and I just found my niche. It was like a calling.”

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Every weekday starts early for Deputy Landi. Besides his main role as one of two SRDs at Matanzas High School, he supervises the county’s Crossing Guard program. By the time he gets to Matanzas at 7 a.m., he’s already checked on all of his crossing guards across Flagler County.

Then he walks the campus and checks the high school to make sure it’s secure, all before the teachers and students arrive.

“My biggest challenge is knowing that every single kid who comes on to this campus goes home,” Landi said. “It’s every staff member and every child that came onto campus goes home to their families or loved ones. I would die for these kids. I would.”

Once the bell rings, Deputy Landi roams the halls keeping all classrooms and all entrances locked.

“Security is 100% the first priority for us ultimately,” Landi said. “Technology, cell phones, social media, it’s a battle in itself because there are right ways to use social media and there are wrong ways. And unfortunately sometimes we have to deal with the wrong ways with social media, with bullying or anything like that.”

Landi admitted a lot has changed since he first started as an SRD 13 years ago. Protecting students and staff has gotten more complicated and requires more training.

Cmdr. Jennifer Nawrocki, who oversees Flagler County’s Youth Services division, said Deputy Landi has adapted so well and made such a strong connection with kids that he coaches newer SRDs.

“He goes to them, trust me,” Nawrocki said. “We have briefings and we have a couple of guys that have been here for a long time and he’s always our go-to guy. I was watching him this morning, he was getting hugs and high-fives from all the kids that had missed him. I get letters to my office from students just saying how great he is and how much of an impact and change he’s made in their life and how he’s been the one person who really listens to them. He has the right personality in the schools to make sure that they mentor kids and our children trust that they have someone to go to. They may not have somebody at home, all of them. They may have a difficult relationship.”

Landi said often his advice for his fellow SRDs is not to ask about mom and dad if they’re not familiar with a student’s home life. He said more children are living with an extended family member or guardian and may be bitter about it. Landi said asking, “Who do you live with?” may be less upsetting and could make a stronger connection.

“They (fellow SRDs) call me all the time for questions or advice, anything really,” Landi said. “It’s always, ‘How do you work with these kids?’ and I say it’s easier to work with these kids than it is to go out and work on the road because the kids want your help or need your help. Last Thursday a student was getting to ready to leave for college in Chicago and he drove past school and saw my patrol car and he told his father he had to stop here. He came into my office and we had an hour conversation before he left for school.”

Last year, Landi’s training was tested when the school’s active threat alert system sent out a false alarm.

“We were searching the school not knowing what’s going on,” Landi said. “Having extra road units come here, directing them, we’re clearing the school, that is very stressful but we didn’t hesitate at all because that’s how we’re trained.”

Deputy Landi’s own son attends Mantanzas, but he treats every child like his own and he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I know that over 2,000 kids came yesterday and 2,000 kids left yesterday and my job is complete today,” Landi said. “And tomorrow it starts over.

Nawrocki had a special message for Landi.

“I just want to say thank you to him, for his dedication to the kids and the school,” Nawrocki said. “Because I know he’s greatly appreciated.”

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About the Author:

Erik von Ancken anchors and reports for WKMG-TV News 6 (CBS) in Orlando and is a two-time Emmy award-winning journalist in the prestigious and coveted "On-Camera Talent" categories for both anchoring and reporting. Erik joined the News 6 News Team in 2003 days after the tragic loss of space shuttle Columbia.