School District #709, MN
“Programmitis” is something Jodi E. Beckstrom, M.P.A., started fighting against as soon as she became project director of the Safe Schools/Healthy Students (SS/HS) project at Independent School District #709 in Duluth, MN, in 2006. Instead of launching dozens of new programs, her goal was to change schools’ climate.
As a result, the program didn’t just create a school-based mental health service delivery system. It also sought to embed the themes underlying SS/HS into everything the district did. Working with the district’s Office of Education Equity, for example, Ms. Beckstrom and her colleagues disaggregated data to see how students of color were faring and examined school activities through an equity lens. Those analyses prompted the development of anti-racism workshops and programs connecting elementary students with counterparts in schools very different from their own.
Community partnerships were key. The education equity work attracted the local United Way, which came on board to help close the achievement gap. The county attorney’s office, local juvenile justice representatives, and law enforcement personnel joined school staff to explore ways to keep kids in school and out of the judicial system.
Working at all levels was another successful sustainability strategy. Two years into the program, the superintendent realized it wasn’t enough to supplement academic learning with social and emotional training for children. “He said that wouldn’t matter if we didn’t teach adults, too, if teachers weren’t socially and emotionally aware,” said Ms. Beckstrom. “We were able to use the same concept at the adult level.”
Since the federal funding ended, said Ms. Beckstrom, all these strategies have helped keep the SS/HS concept going. Work groups identified priority SS/HS initiatives and determined how to sustain them via such mechanisms as informal networks and formal agreements.
Sustaining the SS/HS work meant redefining sustainability, said Ms. Beckstrom. “The superintendent said we couldn’t think about sustainability in terms of dollars,” she said.
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