Brown named school's mental health coordinator

The Rice Lake  Area School District is investing heavily into the social-emotional learning of its students for the 2019-20 school year with the hiring  of five new employees and one reassigned employee.

Approved at the Aug. 12 Board of Education meeting were five Safe Space positions and one mental health coordinator.

Amanda Brown was hired as mental health coordinator and will be compensated at $40,000. Her position is funded two-thirds by a grant and one-third by the district.

Brown has a Bachelor of Science degree in Human Development and Family Studies from UW-Stout. She was a community outreach worker/program leader with the Goodwill Restorative Justice program for more than 6 years.

According to pupil services director Susan Strouf, she has extensive experience working with children and families and is well-versed in trauma-informed practices and child development.

“Amanda also has well-established, positive relationships with numerous county and community agencies and resources as well as with area families.

“Prior to her work as a community outreach worker, Amanda was a senior therapist at Reaching Your Potential, LLC in La Crosse, where she provided case management for clients receiving interventional services for autism spectrum diagnosis.”

Hired as Safe Space teacher at Tainter Elementary is Erika Spear, daughter of school board member Gary Spear, who abstained from the vote. Her starting wage is $50,500.

For the past 6 years, Spear worked as a school counselor at the Almond-Bancroft School District. In that role, she was a youth mental health first aid trainer, served as a district representative for the Suicide Prevention and Mental Health Awareness Coalition for Portage County and has provided numerous trainings related to trauma-informed practices, restorative practices and mindfulness among other trainings. She has a Masters of Science degree in School Counseling from UW-Stout and completed her school counseling internships at Barron High School and Cumberland Middle School.

Also hired were Jen Davis and Jacob Cooper, both Safe Space paraprofessionals at Tainter Elementary; and Jerud Udelhofen and Ashley Rodencal, both Safe Space supervisors at the Rice Lake Middle School.

Davis has been working at Tainter since October 2015 to meet various building needs. Her rate was not disclosed. Cooper will earn the paraprofessional hourly rate, and Udelhofen  and Rodencal will receive the support staff aide rate.

Why the need?

According to information provided to board members by Strouf, students with intensive behavioral/social emotional needs significantly impact the learning of other students in special education classrooms, general education classrooms and their own learning.

Several students have shortened days due to insufficient programming, staffing and space to meet their needs in the school environment.

She said there has been a significant increase in use of restraint/seclusion at Tainter Elementary.

This has resulted in hours of lost instruction for students in general education as classrooms need to evacuate. There is not always a location for a full class to move to when evacuating.

Some students may have only 7 hours of instructional time per week due to escalated behaviors, as they are unable to learn.

Special education students miss specialized instructional minutes (e.g., math recovery, intensive reading intervention, executive functioning) when students need access to the resource room to calm/de-escalate.

The number of students with intense behaviors has increased significantly in the past 5 years and does not look to be decreasing.

Focus of space/support

Strouf said the primary focus of the additional space/support is on calming and reteaching strategies in a trauma-sensitive environment that will meet individual student needs.  It’s a space for recovery rather than scheduled instruction.  

The trauma-sensitive  staff can also be used in classrooms for preventing escalation of behavior who are exhibiting signs they are in the “anxiety” or “defensive” level.  

TSS staff can push in to a teacher’s classroom when a teacher contacts TSS staff via a communication system. The TSS staff will provide 1:1 supportive or directive responses for the student in the classroom while the teacher continues teaching the class. A TSS staff member can also provide guided transport to  a TSS room, if it is necessary and part of student’s Behavior Support Plan.

There will still be self-contained supports in special education for students with behavioral needs. Once student behavior is disruptive to the learning of themselves or others beyond what can be managed in the special education setting, the student would access this space.

Similar to the general education setting, special education staff can contact a TSS staff member to push into a special education room to provide 1:1 supportive or directive responses to prevent further escalation or to provide guided transport.

(Copyright © 2019 APG Media)

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