Half of all mental health conditions start by age 14, and three-quarters begin by age 24. Members of Chiefs for Change, a bipartisan network of K-12 leaders who oversee systems that collectively serve roughly 7 million children, are prioritizing student wellness alongside rigorous academics. In many cases, systems are using federal Covid aid to fund needed services. To support these efforts, Chiefs for Change today released resources that guide leaders in establishing, expanding, and/or improving mental health services for students. The first set of resources, here and here, outlines promising practices for retaining and attracting district mental health support staff. The second set, here and here, describes promising practices for creating strong partnerships with community providers.
“Too many of our scholars are experiencing anxiety, depression, grief, and trauma,” said NOLA Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Avis Williams, a member of Chiefs for Change and an alumnus of the network’s Future Chiefs leadership development program. “This is true in cities and towns across the nation and here in New Orleans, where our community had the highest homicide rate in America for the first half of the year. Caring for scholars’ mental health needs goes hand-in-hand with supporting their academic growth. That’s why I’ve joined with New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell and Orleans Parish Sheriff Susan Hutson on an effort to help our scholars and families and promote community safety by strengthening partnerships and significantly expanding wrap-around services. The pandemic has made it all the more clear that K-12 systems need to take a more holistic approach to education. I’m pleased that Chiefs for Change is producing resources to help schools develop strong and strategic plans in this area.”
The resources on human capital explain how a district can bring counselors, social workers, and other mental health professionals together to provide insights and recommendations for making a school system an attractive place to work for those in their field. A facilitator’s guide and related materials walk leaders through the process of exploring tactics such as creating more dedicated physical space and time in the school day for counseling sessions, planning, and facilitating referrals. In addition, the materials guide conversations about how to maximize the time employees spend working directly with students by, for example, implementing triaging processes, standardizing IT functions, and streamlining data entry and connections to specialists. Given the competition for mental health professionals, the documents note that districts should consider how to differentiate the opportunities they provide as compared to private practice or health care settings. The resources also outline ideas related to increasing salary and benefits; providing high-quality professional development so mental health employees can grow in their field; and ensuring a work environment that empowers these employees, values their perspective, and allows them to work at the top of their license.
Considering students’ pressing needs, and the provider shortage that exists in many parts of the country, districts may find that a variety of resources and strategies need to be deployed in parallel. As such, the second set of resources is focused on partnerships with community providers. Chiefs for Change worked with systems led by its members to develop the resources. Like the first set of materials, these documents include information designed for a working group, in this case one assembled to explore and establish local partnerships. Informed by this work, the materials can help districts implement processes for collecting and studying data to understand students’ mental health needs, identifying gaps in services, and assessing how well the system works with partners. This second of resources also offers guidance in a number of areas to support effective collaborations. These include how to establish memoranda of understanding; determine effective methods of communication; protect the privacy of student data; create a shared referral protocol; and conduct joint training programs.
On September 14, Chiefs for Change Chief in Residence Dr. Bryan Johnson will provide an overview of the resources at the 2022 National College Attainment Network Conference in Atlanta. Dr. Johnson, the former superintendent of Hamilton County Schools in Chattanooga, Tennessee, will lead a panel discussion at the conference with members of the Chiefs for Change community about how their school districts are supporting students’ wellbeing overall and in the transition to life after high school. District leaders will explain how they are using customized tools and initiatives, connections to critical services, and strong collaboration with families to support students’ wellbeing needs as part of the work to prepare all young people for bright futures in college and beyond.
Chiefs for Change operates the largest community of practice for education leaders in the nation and has produced other student wellbeing resources, one for districts and one for states. The network’s full library of resources to help K-12 systems respond to the pandemic is available here. Chiefs for Change provides technical assistance for promising initiatives in members’ systems, advocates for policies and practices that make a difference for students, and builds a pipeline of talented, diverse Future Chiefs ready to lead major school systems.