Update from the Superintendent - December 7, 2023

This is Part 4 of a multi-week series on school safety with today's focus on school climate and mental health resources. The US Department of Justice has outlined the 10 basic tenets of school-based planning and actions with respect to physical and emotional safety, as shown in the chart below.

MSAD #51 offers a robust and ever-expanding host of school climate and mental health supports in order to connect each student with our schools. This is aligned to the district's mission "To guide all students as they acquire enthusiasm for learning, assume responsibility for their education, achieve academic excellence, and discover and attain their personal best." In 2022-23, we re-prioritized school-wide efforts at building positive and inclusive school climates that had taken a backseat for a couple of years during the pandemic.

In addition to a heavy emphasis on connecting students to their schools, efforts were prioritized around interventions that help all students succeed using a Tier 1 mental health approach. In a Tier 1 approach, a focus on enrichment and social/emotional health and education, along with coping skills and resources, are supported by school staff and/or community members. Examples of this would be school-wide assemblies, spirit weeks, topical speakers, team-building activities, etc that dovetail with advisory programming in grades 6-12 and guidance classes at the elementary level. We administer a universal mental health screener, the Student Risk Screening Scale (SRSS) that helps to establish a baseline by which students who may need extra support are identified. An intervention tool that is used for many situations is use of restorative practices and restorative circles when the need arises.

In a Tier 2 approach to mental health, targeted classroom or small group interventions address general concerns (stress management, social skills, mild emotional distress) and provide foundational skills for students with mild symptoms with or without mental health diagnosis. Tier 2 is often facilitated by the school mental health team in cooperation with other school staff. For Tier 3, individual or intensive group support for students with moderate to severe mental health symptoms that significantly impact their school functioning are scheduled and provided by the school mental health team.

MSAD #51 is fortunate to have a comprehensive mental health team of staff members, including 8 school counselors, 11 social workers, and a team of psychological examiners that is headed by a full-time PhD level psychologist. The district has a unique position in Maine with a dedicated Mental Health/Risk Assessment Specialist for higher-level student safety concerns using a behavioral perspective. To learn more, check out the Mental Health Resources Plan.

Up Next Week: Behavioral threat assessment and social media monitoring.

Missed the previous segments? Catch up here: 
Part 1: Comprehensive school safety planning & campus/school/classroom security
Part 2: Safety series resumes: Coordination with first responders and school-based law enforcement.
Part 3: Drills and anonymous reporting systems