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District to up its mental health efforts

The District 833 School Board informally approved creating a temporary mental health coordinator position Aug. 5 in response to concerns following the suicides of two Woodbury High School students within six weeks this spring.

The one-year position would be filled by choosing a coordinator from among the district's current school psychologists, and hiring someone temporarily to fulfill that person's regular duties.

Porter also made other mental health recommendations in response to concerns raised in June by School Board Member Jim Gelbmann and other board members.

He directed the district's Director of Special Services Erin Metoxen to form a mental health task force of administrators and mental health workers.

Though the task force, which met during July, recommended two full-time positions, Porter pared that to one position and added staff training and other resources.

Recommendations include:

• Forming problem solving teams in each building to identify and support students with mental health problems and other risk factors.

• Providing additional training for mental health resource teams, including school psychologists, school nurses, counselors and social workers at a costs of $32,000.

district and building administrators in the problem-solving team model.

• Requiring each building to dedicate four hours and each department two hours to mental health-related topics and issues. One half of the time would be provided by current building resources with the remainder from the district with the cost not to exceed $20,000.

Although the district has 63 mental health workers, they have other responsibilities such as providing career advice or medical care. There is a "lack of clarity, some gaps and some overlap in their areas of responsibility," according to Porter's recommendations.

"The goal is to work smarter and more effectively," Metoxen told the board, "so we're not spending our time doing paperwork."

The new position will also be responsible for coordinating district resources and outside assistance from Washington County, which is pulling back from previous support because of budget limitations, Porter said.

"Who will decide the role of resource teams?" said Board Member Marsha Adou.

Porter said he's looking for a common structure that is shared by schools so team members can help if there is a crisis at another school.

Board Chair Leslee Boyd asked if some mental health workers will balk at job changes that were not there when they were hired.

"They know there's a need for change," Porter said. "There is a general awareness that change is overdue."

Board Member Ron Kath asked if there will be a negative response from the community because of the cost of an additional position. "We hear that we have too many counselors and administrators," he said.

There is a significant amount of work to be done in a short time, Porter said.

It's a one-year aggressive plan on an important issue that the community will support, said Board Member Laurie Johnson.

Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
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