In our ongoing talks about funding issues, mental health comes up a lot! The Safety Forum held by Jeffco Schools months ago brought the subject up and the new task force has included multiple discussions on the need to better serve the mental health needs of our students as well.
The following came up from a community member and former Jeffco social worker who has since changed employment to serve a different district, she remains a parent of students in Jeffco. She wants it to be known that she does believe that Jeffco is a good district and recognizes that this is a need but Jeffco just doesn’t have the funding due to not passing our mill and bond issues when other districts have done so.
This fact alone should make EVERY parent and employee want to work on campaigns for Great Schools, Thriving Communities and any future mill or bond issue. #GSTC2018 alone would bring in $120 Million to $140 Million per year with very little tax impact to the community, most will actually see a decrease in property taxes.
Following is her story:
I started working for Jeffco Schools in 2007. I was so excited as this was my first School Social Work job. I felt a little prepared, I had spent 1 year as a school based therapist working for a community mental health agency that the schools (Adams) contracted with.
My first year was great and rough all at the same time. I started off my job with a desk and some office supplies (a cup with pens) – that was it.
No curriculum, school social work supplies etc. I had to find my own mentor- fortunately i knew one other MH person in the district and she offered to be my mentor. My orientation was the same as teachers, nothing specific to my job. I had to seek out and find all of the resources Jeffco had, if I wasn’t a self- advocate, I would have been clueless.
I worked with a school counselor who was new at the same time that I was. The counseling orientation was far superior to the psych/social workers. I had training on how to use Encore (the SPED software) but it was years before I would be offered a training on how to write goals for my IEP’s etc., there was no training on the BASC, or the various other assessments required of my job. Some were sprinkled throughout my 10 years but they weren’t regular. I had to buy my own curriculum since there wasn’t a budget for it but it was required that I use evidenced based curriculum.
My area coordinator (who has since retired) was great but she was a trained SPED teacher, not a MH person. She could answer the laws on SPED but couldn’t offer any guidance on the most sensitive parts of my job- the caring of students’ mental health.
Jeffco put together many focus groups and tasks forces over the years, but nothing ever changed. My last year at Jeffco, we met as a cohort 2 times. In the past, it had been 4 times a year but those were mostly logistics meetings – again, very little specific training in my job. We did have a few good trainings here and there but they were too few and far between. I was required to conduct FBA’s and write behavior plans, but was told they didn’t have training scheduled, it would be years before I attended one.
This job is far too important to have to wing it. Everyone uses different forms and has been told different things about how goals should be written, collect data etc. There was no consistency and consensus- it was so frustrating.
I was sad to leave Jeffco and had 10 years invested in the district but was continually disappointed with the lack of support for the MH team. I switched to Littleton Public Schools and they blow me away with their mental health programs. We have monthly professional development relevant to our field, monthly meetings with our cohort with an agenda out together by the district, in addition to monthly PLCs that are run by us. There is a social emotional learning DEPARTMENT, a behavior support and PBIS team for gen ed as well as students in SPED.
How can Jeffco improve? Littleton has a great template that we could follow:
- We need full-time mental health in every building
- We need a universally supported social emotional curriculum that is supported district wide and built into the schedule
- There needs to be a mental health orientation at the beginning of each year training new mental health staff on the resources of the district etc.
- Monthly PLCs organized by the district specific to your field
- Training on new and innovative MH programs
- Professional development days should be relevant- I spent too many of these days learning about the newest math program or writing program- again, no MH PD
In LPS – MH is not just a SPED program like it is in Jeffco. We have Psychs who do the SPED portion and SSWs that do the gen ed piece and it’s a GREAT model. Of course, I worked with both gen ed and SPED when I could in Jeffco but it was hard when I was in an elementary school and I had a SPED caseload of 20 kids and was only halftime; they needed to be my priority, school-wise MH always had to take the back burner.
We need a MH department- not just one person who is responsible for supporting every school in the district. There needs to be a team.
This job is way too critical to be left so vulnerable. Things fall through the cracks when the demand is too high and the support is too little.
We are grateful to this Jeffco mom and social worker for sharing her expertise and ideas as to how to serve our Jeffco students better. She was also a petition carrier for #GSTC2018 and one of the first to sign.
Thankfully, once the voters approve the funding for #GSTC2018, we have the opportunity to use our voices in community budget forums (these were poorly attended this year and last) to advocate for services for our children that we believe will be most impactful in serving the needs of Jeffco students. We hope you’ll join the campaign and talk to everyone you know.
One of the first steps is sharing information. We hope you’ll do so!