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October 10, 2018

NOVEMBER 6, 2018

Superintendent Corner Column
Why Your Vote on Mental Health Matters

“In every community, there is work to be done.
In every nation, there are wounds to heal.
In every heart, there is the power to do it.”
Marianne Williamson
On November 6, 2018, the Verona community will have an opportunity to cast an important vote that would increase funding to the Verona Public Schools to invest in social emotional learning by increasing mental health programming and professional staffing at the elementary, middle, and high school level.

Our teachers, administrators, and staff cultivate an environment that creates excitement for learning. We are fortunate to be able to create rigorous, academic environments with a diverse and robust curricula. The achievement of our students depends on it. Enhancing mental health programming supports student social and emotional development and is a key component to teaching the whole child. We are committed to nurturing and developing all children, to sustain a positive culture and climate throughout our entire learning community; in our schools, in our community, and in your homes.

Marc A. Brackett, professor and Director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence at Yale University said, "When schools recognize that emotions drive much of how and what we learn, students and educators flourish ... Fortunately, we now know that not only are emotions relevant to intelligence, but that the more we repress them, the more they can affect our cognition and distort our perceptions."

Keeping students emotionally and physically safe is a top priority. We strive to ensure a positive school climate and culture in Verona. Our commitment to this endeavor is centered on both proactive educational measures and coordinated, strategic school planning to ensure a safe learning environment. Approval of this second question on mental health programming and expansion of staff would allow the District to enhance our program with a comprehensive support system of educational resources, both preventive strategies and interventions, to support children and families through collaborative partnerships within our community.
Through our recent strategic plan, our community stakeholders included the District goal to develop a compassionate and respectful perspective as part of the global community along with Strategy #2: Uphold a healthy and respectful school culture consistent with our core values. The work and efforts to this question for a community vote is the result of the efforts of our devoted action committee on Mental Health & Suicide Prevention and Code of Conduct & Respect .

On the financial front, the Verona Public Schools operates a lean and fiscally responsible school budget with low per pupil spending. There are several factors that have created financial constraints making funding new programs of this scope impossible via the current school budget:

  • The reduction in State aid amounts to a cumulative loss of $5.6 million to the Verona Public Schools since 2011. This fact translates into less funding to develop programs and expand staffing in our schools.
  • This reduction in State aid equates to a loss of $705,000 per year on average.
  • The current State aid received in 2018 is still 23% less than in 2010.
  • The Verona Public Schools has never been fully funded based on the New Jersey funding formula.
  • Since 2011, the inception of the 2.0% cap on the property tax levy makes it prohibitive to increase the district's operating budget above the cap without approval from the taxpayer.

We are fortunate to have a caring community dedicated to continuing to focus on providing a high quality education for our students. This second question to expand mental health programming has been thoughtfully developed and would provide additional support and staffing for $9 per month ($108 per year) to the average assessed household. Social emotional learning is a factor that impacts academic achievement and personal development, allowing our students to maximize their individual potential. I encourage you to become informed by reviewing the information below and voting on November 6th.

All my best,

Dr. Rui Dionisio
Superintendent of Schools
What Can Effective School Solutions Offer Our Students?

  1. Comprehensive Program Protocols
  2. Education & Training for Teaching Staff
  3. Supervision & Quality Management
  4. School Avoidance Interventions
  5. Behavioral Student Programming
  6. Objective Measurement of Performance
  7. Family Services
  8. Clinical Documentation
  9. Highly Experienced Staff
What Will The
Program Cost Us?
Community Awareness & Education

This ballot question to enhance mental health programming and increase our child study team staff is the result of the tireless efforts of many members of our community committed to supporting a positive culture and climate in our schools.

Like so many initiatives in our District, we are fortunate to have engaged members of our community who have been willing participants in collaboration with district leadership on important endeavors. Our two Action Committees on Mental Health & Suicide Prevention and Code of Conduct & Respect are comprised of district staff, students, parents, and community members. Our group was fortunate to have collaborated with a representative from the Sandy Hook Promise to learn more about steps that can be taken to protect children and create meaningful action.

Our action committees continue to drive positive change by enhancing the proactive measures that can be incorporated into our schools to help nurture a positive school climate and culture. We encourage community members to review the links above on the work of our action committees who have identified district progress and important next steps to continue to provide a safe and supportive community for ALL students, staff, and community members.
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Comprehensive In-District Therapeutic Services

The Challenges

The demand for specialized services to meet the needs of students with emotional and behavioral problems is a major challenge for public school districts throughout New Jersey. Like many, the Verona Public Schools district can greatly benefit from offering the kind of clinical services that will maintain students in the least restrictive environment, prevent out-of-district placements and allow students to take full advantage of the academic, social and co-curricular opportunities that the district has to offer. However, the challenge is great because the management and education of these students requires a specialized expertise typically not found in the public schools. Trying to maintain these students without providing the proper resources creates great risk for a district and hurts the education of the specific student as well as the entire student body.

ESS: A Proven Solution

Effective School Solutions (ESS) offers the district a proven solution that will greatly enhance the quality of the educational experience of students with emotional and behavioral problems.

ESS is a demonstrated success, having made a major impact in districts throughout New Jersey, Connecticut and, beginning this past September, Pennsylvania. In the current school year, ESS is providing services in seventy-four schools in forty-four school districts. Our data is strong; once a student enters an ESS program, his/her grades and attendance go up while disciplinary incidents go down, and the need for an out-of-district placement or home instruction is avoided.

ESS in the Verona Public Schools District

ESS would install programming beginning January 2018. All services would provide an intensive level of structure and support for those students who are struggling within the public school setting or returning from an out-of-district placement. If so desired, ESS will provide programming for students in mainstream classes as well as in self-contained classrooms.

The general protocol for ESS students will include:

  • Daily group therapy
  • Weekly individual counseling
  • Family therapy, typically twice per month; staff will be available up to one evening per week to provide the family therapy, as needed
  • Dedicated study skills class for all or selected ESS mainstream students led by a district teacher and supported by an ESS staff person
  • Supervised lunch, separate from the overall student body, for all or selected ESS students and overseen by an ESS staff member
  • Monthly evening parent psycho-social support program, along with the distribution of Solutions, the monthly ESS newsletter for parents
  • Immediate level-of-care evaluations when it is required in the context of school guidelines for the assessment of suicidality/homicidality

Staffing and Caseload

Two full-time ESS staff would be assigned to VHS and one staff member to HBW to be selected by the district, along with the ongoing presence of the ESS Regional Clinical Director and a member of the Quality Management Team. All clinical staff are licensed mental health professionals with appropriate experience for the treatment of child/ adolescent behavioral and psychiatric disorders. Caseloads for each staff member shall be up to 10 students at any given time, regardless if they are in mainstream or self-contained classes.

Additional Services

  • On-site supervision and consultation by a Regional Clinical Director of ESS on at least a twice-weekly basis
  • On-going monitoring of each student’s clinical record by ESS’s Quality Management staff
  • On-going child study team consultation
  • Weekly student review meeting with designated school and special services leadership or designees

Which students will be placed in ESS Programming?

Students who are at-risk for out-of-district placement or are otherwise struggling within the regular school setting due to emotional or behavioral problems. In addition, the programming will be an excellent transition for those students who will now be able to return to the district from other out-of-district educational settings.

Specialized services for students with significant behavioral disorders

Specialized protocols are used when working with students with significant behavioral disorders. The focus of these protocols is on trauma, emotional regulation, impulse control, frustration management and the development of communication skills. Moreover, especially when working with teachers assigned to a self-contained class, ESS staff will work closely with the teaching staff on a daily basis towards the goal of helping create and maintain a nonreactive classroom setting that supports positive behavior among ESS students and promotes an overall positive school culture.

Specialized services for students struggling with school avoidance

ESS has also developed protocols specific to students with school avoidance, with a long track record of great success. The ESS protocols include a specialized assessment for students and their parents, parent coaching along with family therapy, intensive and frequent home visits and, when needed, a supportive re-entry to school procedure.

Pre-implementation Activities

  1. ESS will collaborate with the district to identify students appropriate to return
  2. ESS will work with district staff to develop student schedules and self-contained classroom structures, settings and policies, if so desired by the district
  3. ESS will provide individual parent information sessions to help parents better understand the ESS services that will support their child’s return to the district
  4. As noted below, ESS will conduct an all-day off-site training for the teaching staff and paraprofessionals working with behavioral students before the start of the new school year

Summer Programming

ESS will provide summer programming in July/August 2019 for a select group of students in each school for the period that mirrors the district’s ESY schedule.

Professional Development

An important goal of ESS is to assist districts in providing teaching staff with the knowledge and skills necessary to work effectively with students with emotional and behavioral problems. Toward this end:

  • ESS distributes Insights, a monthly newsletter for teachers with research updates and practical tools for the classroom
  • ESS will provide on-site professional development for district teachers for up to 8 hours per year from the ESS Presentation Library, which has been previously provided
  • Prior to the onset of the school year, ESS will provide an off-site all-day training for any and all district teachers (regardless of their assigned school) on effective strategies for the management of behavioral students in the classroom
  • Teachers selected by the school(s) in which ESS operates will be invited to attend an off-site all day ESS training program in the fall of 2018 on working with struggling students in the public school classroom

Resources Provided by the District

Computers and office space for the full-time staff (ESS will provide all furnishings for
these offices except for desks), along with access to the Internet and the district’s
database for the grades, attendance, and disciplinary incidents of the ESS students.
What is ESS?

Effective School Solutions, or ESS, is an organization whose mission is to provide comprehensive clinical programs embedded in the school day for students with emotional and behavioral challenges so that these students can be safely and successfully educated in-district with their peers, in the least restrictive environment, and benefit from all the home district has to offer. ESS services include individual, group and family therapy, family support groups, monthly newsletters with important mental health information and tips for families and teachers, and year-round professional development for all educational professionals in the district (school leadership, teachers, paraprofessionals, etc.).

Do families have to pay for ESS?

No. ESS partners with public school districts to provide clinical programs for students at no cost to families.

Does ESS take jobs from school staff?

No. In 83 schools within 45 districts, ESS works in close collaboration with the school’s team, it does not replace them. ESS programs complement the clinical supports the district already has in place with the highest level of in-school clinical care for students with the highest level of need. This allows the school’s team, in turn, to spend more time with students who need a lower level of care.

Does ESS provide psychiatrists and administer medication to students?

No. ESS clinicians are highly qualified licensed mental health professionals who provide individual, group and family therapy, among other supports, to students and families throughout the school day and in the evenings. They help families assess the need for psychiatric consultation and, if necessary, link families with psychiatrists and other qualified service providers in the community. In addition, with parental consent, ESS works collaboratively with a student’s psychiatrist to provide a continuum of care.

Does ESS help teachers and school administrators in working most effectively with students who have emotional and behavioral challenges?

Yes! An important goal of ESS is to provide teachers and school administrators with the knowledge and skills needed to work most effectively with students with emotional and behavioral challenges. To this end, ESS provides all-day off-site professional development conferences, on-site year-round professional development, bi-weekly collaborative student planning meetings, a monthly psycho-education newsletter, and regular consultation and collaboration with teachers and school administrators. Professional Development is always geared toward the most relevant and in-demand topics, and always provides practical tips to be readily implemented.