INFLUENCER OF THE WEEK: Deputy James Vignali, Gotha Middle School

Deputy Vignali make sure the students at Gotha Middle School are safe every day.

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James Vignali is a master deputy with the Orange County Sheriff’s Office and currently is working as a school resource officer at Gotha Middle School. He has some letters of gratitude from the FBI for assisting in apprehension of a cartel leader, and he also received an award for being on the Squad of the Year in 2017 with the most arrests in progress.

Deputy Vignali is a very relatable SRO who is truly invested in our school,” Principal Monica Emery said. “He spends time talking to the kids, working with our leadership team and really getting to know everyone. He is always willing to do anything to help, from safety trainings to working with families. He is diligent in ensuring our campus is safe every day from arrival to dismissal. We are very lucky to have an SRO like Deputy Vignali.”

What brought you to your school?

I was in the patrol unit as a master deputy for 18 years. Looking for a new adventure, I decided to be an SRO in the schools. I put in for the SRO Unit and was a floater SRO for one year at different schools. For the last two years, I’ve been blessed to be at Gotha Middle School.

What do you love most about your school?

I love the way all the Gotha Middle School staff works together and genuinely cares for the students’ well-being. I like that I can be a good role model for the students. Gotha Middle does a lot of fun things for the students, like a silent DJ party and lib dub videos. 

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

Making a positive impact on people and students I encounter on the job. I like to help people and to see that in some way I made a difference in someone’s life. 

What would you be if you weren’t in this profession? 

I wanted to play professional baseball and made it to Double AA ball in high school. However now, I could not see myself doing anything else other than being a law-enforcement officer.  I have been in law enforcement for 25 years, and it has been well worth it.

Who influences you? 

My dad was a big influence on my life. He would tell me, “Always do the right thing no matter what you do in life.”I guess it was my calling to become a law-enforcement officer and be a protector of people in need. I always try to make my dad proud, even though he is no longer with me and passed on. I know he still watches over me.

Who was your favorite teacher when you were in school? Why?

My favorite teacher was my gym coach, Mr. Tuttle. He was my coach for the junior high wrestling team, junior high soccer team and my high school baseball team. He always looked out for his players and made sure we didn’t skip classes. If we didn’t make good grades, he would kick us off the team sports. If he saw any of his players in the hallway during classes, we would hear it from him. He kept us in line, but he taught us how hard work and training paid off.

What is your favorite children’s book and why?

I cannot remember any children’s books I read, but I loved comic books like Spider-Man, Batman and Ironman.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I love to take out my boat in the ocean on the Gulf side of Florida. I also like to play golf and do cycling for the OCSO team. 

If you could dine with any famous person, past or present, who would it be and why?

President John F. Kennedy, because I had won a medal when I attended Public Elementary School 179 in Brooklyn and I was a school safety crossing guard. I pulled a small toddler out of the road when a car ran a stop sign. I was awarded a medal with John F. Kennedy on the front, and on the back it said, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” I always wanted to meet him from that point on.

If you could have any superpower, what would it be and why?

To be like Ironman — to be invincible, fly around and have all that high-tech gear to fight crime.

If you could only listen to three bands or artists, who would they be and why?

The Eagles because I learned to play guitar listening to them, Run DMC since I used to be a deejay back in school, and Spyro Gyra since they are one of the best jazz bands. I like all kinds of music across many genres.

What was your go-to lunch and favorite snack as an elementary student?

My go-to lunch would be pizza, the Elios pizza they used to give us back in elementary school. I still love pizza, but good New York-style pizza.

What is your favorite holiday and why?

Christmas was always the best because I would see all my cousins when we went to our abuela’s (grandmother’s) house. We would play games all night long and stay up waiting to open presents with all the family. There was also all the great Spanish food to eat. 

Who was your best friend when you were in school and why? Are you still in touch?

I had a lot of friends from school — some were sports team friends and some were neighborhood friends. I had a large group of friends from school, and we all still keep in contact via social media. 

What were your extracurricular activities as a student? Did you win any accolades or honors?

I was on the junior high wrestling team, and we went to the state finals, where we came in second place. I played junior high soccer and high school baseball. I made it to Double AA baseball league while still playing high school baseball. I remember hitting in the winning run in a high school Baseball League World Series game where we played in Coney Island against an Upstate New York high school team. 

How long have you been at your school and with OCPS?

I have been working with OCPS as an OCSO SRO for three years and at Gotha Middle School for two years.


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