WAPS study group offers suggestions for systemic, sustainable changes to student support services

School Board Report Feb. 18

The work of the study group has finished. The work of the district, however, is just beginning.

Dr. Annette K. Freiheit, Superintendent of Winona Area Public Schools, presented the results of the Student Support Services Study Group to the school board on Thursday, Feb. 18. The 26-page report (linked here) offers a comprehensive look at the services and programs already offered by the district, a breakdown of the current responsibilities of the school counselors, school social workers and school psychologists, as well as more than four pages of recommendations that provide a roadmap for the district to make systemic and sustainable changes to more effectively offer and provide support to the students and families who need it.

Some of the recommendations involve staffing changes, however Freiheit mentioned in the report that “it will be vital to conduct a thorough analysis of our current staffing, our student needs and recommendations from this study group,” a process that may mean responsibilities of current staff members shift to better align with the needs of students and families. 

Freiheit also mentioned two initiatives in the district that complement these recommendations. The first is the Climate Cohort, a collaboration with the Minnesota Department of Education and the Regional Centers of Excellence that focuses on a multi-tiered transformative school climate in service of educational equity. The second is a partnership with the Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement (CAREI) at the University of Minnesota to begin the implementation of Multi-Tiered System of Support throughout the district. MTSS is a prevention and resource allocation framework that addresses the needs of every student and ensures that students receive the support they need to be successful, according to CAREI.

The district is also committed to professional development focused on diversity, equity and inclusivity, Freiheit said. During a professional development day on Monday, Feb. 15, for example, all licensed staff took part in a session with Perry Wilkinson, an equity specialist who provides coaching and training experiences to help school staff members transform their own behavior and mindset to better allow all students to thrive.

Other themes in the recommendations include continuing to build and nurture relationships and community connections; continue to develop curriculum that includes multicultural perspectives, equity and inclusivity; peer support groups based on racial or ethnic identity, or support groups that deal with topics like suicide prevention; and improved family engagement throughout the student’s school career.

Improving mental health referrals was another recommendation of the group, which noted that sometimes students wait several weeks before they are able to see a mental health professional. The district could implement a district-wide mental health screener such as SAEBRS (Social, Academic, and Emotional Behavior Risk Screener).

The group also recommended the district examine how students and families are supported through various transitions — such as early childhood to kindergarten, fourth grade to the middle school, eighth grade to the high school, etc. 

The study group was formed at the directive of the board and tasked with the purpose of analyzing all of the support available to WAPS students and providing recommendations to the board to help the district become more supportive and responsive to all students and families. There were 32 people to serve on the study group, including school staff, teachers, students, administrators and community members.

The report was an informational item on the agenda, and the board took no action at the meeting. The next steps will include WAPS leadership working with staff to address the recommendations that can be started immediately and identifying the recommendations that can be implemented through the planning and budgeting process for the 2021-22 school year.

“Like the music study group, I see this study as the beginning of the district’s work in improving student support services to be more supportive and responsive to each of our students and their families,” Freiheit said.

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