It has been more than 30 years since the Thornburg brothers graduated from W.F. West High School, but the two law enforcement veterans turned school security officers are still familiar faces on the campuses of their hometown school district.
“We have a lot of connection and a lot of history with this school district and this town, so it’s kind of like coming full circle for us,” Todd Thornburg told The Chronicle. “We bought into the school district a long time ago. Our kids went here. We have a lot of pride.”
Todd Thornburg retired from the Washington State Patrol and joined the Chehalis School District as a school security officer in the summer of 2015, after then-superintendent Ed Rothlin approached him about creating the position.
“When I started, the main goal was just visibility. But after a few years, it became a lot more time consuming … The job description grew,” he said.
While the district began talking about adding a second school security officer, Todd’s younger brother, Troy Thornburg, was getting ready to retire from the Chehalis Police Department.
Troy Thornburg was a school resource officer in the Chehalis School District for four years during his 29-year tenure as an officer. With his retirement coming up, he decided he wanted to return to a security role within the Chehalis School District and applied for a newly-created second school security officer position.
The district hired him in the summer leading up to the 2022-2023 school year.
“For the Chehalis School District to hire two SSOs, safety and security officers, that’s kind of a big deal,” Todd Thornburg said. “They want to make it as safe as they can in a good learning environment, so I think they’re doing a good job of trying to make it as safe as they can and a good learning environment.”
The Chehalis School District surveyed school employees at the end the 2021-2022 school year about security and safety and found that staff and administrators were already thinking of ways to improve safety and security in the district.
“It was affirming to the district because it showed the desire to have more presence of security and safety,” Chehalis School District Communications Director Andy Lynch said. “By that point, (Troy Thornburg) had already come on board, but it was nice to see that, from the district’s end, ‘OK, there are needs and desires from our staff for security and safety.’ It’s already on the minds of our staff and administrators.”
The Thornburgs now share a security office at W.F. West High School, complete with a framed photo of the brothers from their law enforcement days, but they don’t see each other often while on duty.
One of them typically stays at W.F. West while the other goes between the district’s other schools.
“What we do is rotate every other week so we’re able to work with all the staff and students throughout the district, which is really beneficial,” Todd Thornburg said.
In addition to patrolling the district’s properties during school hours and at sports games, the school security officers assist the district with safety drills, provide training to staff, investigate crimes such as theft or vandalism on campus and serve as the district’s liaison with the Chehalis Police Department.
One of their biggest jobs, however, is just being visible and available to students.
“We're trying to help kids, you know, whatever ways we can,” Todd Thornburg said. “We're not teachers or administrators. We have kind of a different connection with them, which I think gets kids to open up to us a little bit more and let down those barriers. I think it's been very positive.”
Despite maintaining perfect attendance during their high school careers, the brothers described their academic performance at W.F. West as “C average,” which they said helps them relate to some students who struggle academically.
“My story for kids on that is that education is important, but there’s a lot of other things in life that will get you into a good career: time management, following directions, just those things that they need to hear from us,” Troy Thornburg said. “We were average kids, and we did well, and we’re right back where we started. So I think that’s how we can kind of connect with some of those kids that struggle a little bit.”