The Free Press, Mankato, MN

February 26, 2014

Special support critical in schools

The Mankato Free Press

---- — As presidents of the Minnesota School Social Workers Association and the Minnesota School Psychologists Association, we would like to acknowledge the attention that The Mankato Free Press has directed toward the process of serving the mental health needs of students in local schools.

The article titled “School Counselors Spread Too Thin” written by Amanda Dyslin and the Editorial titled “Our View: Schools Need More Counselors” focused on the needs of students relative to the number of school counselors able to support them.

We would like to take this opportunity to expand on this topic and describe the collaborative efforts of all specialized instructional support personnel in providing services to support positive social-emotional, physical, and academic outcomes.

Specialized instructional support personnel include but are not limited to school psychologists, school social workers, school counselors, and school nurses. Each of these professions offers unique expertise for the provision of services to students. The Mankato school district currently employs 16 counselors, 6 school social workers, 8 school psychologists, and 3 school nurses.

According to 2012-2013 statistics detailed in a recent report from the Minnesota Department of Education, titled “Student Support Services: Team Staffing Approach”, the relative numbers of each of these professionals are similar to statewide averages with Mankato employing slightly fewer relative numbers of school social workers and school nurses.

The foundation of a school-based system for supporting the social-emotional, physical, and academic needs of all students is a multi-disciplinary team approach comprised of a variety of specialized instructional support personnel with different backgrounds, perspectives, training and skill sets. This team approach supports the collaborative pooling of skills and exchange of expertise among specialized instructional support personnel to support student needs. This collaboration is modeled both at a local level within the school setting as well as on a state level between associations.

Multi-disciplinary teams arrange services most efficiently within a multi-tiered preventative health model. This model ensures not only support for the most significant social-emotional, physical, and academic needs of students, but also addresses universal supports for all students and secondary level supports for students at risk.

These models have been adopted in many Minnesota schools and around the country to varying degrees. A collaborative effort between a school psychology professor and a school social work professor, both from Minnesota State University produced a book published by Oxford University Press that describes some elements of this preventative model.

Within this model, the supports for students are managed by teams of professionals that include specialized instructional support personnel as well as teachers and administrators in schools. While counselors, psychologists, social workers, and nurses may be called upon to provide the most intense of these services, the number of students with significant needs is decreased by the universal supports provided by all school personnel.

As an alternative to recommending a ratio-based potential workload range for a specific profession, we propose systematically analyzing the workload of each support professional within the multidisciplinary team when setting standards by analyzing such factors as percentage of students with significant physical or mental health issues; percentage of students with disabilities; percentage of students eligible for services under the McKinney Vento Act, who are homeless or highly mobile; percentage of students who are English Language Learners; and consideration of school safety/behavioral data/bullying incidents.

Utilizing a local education agency’s student needs assessment will provide a well-rounded picture regarding the myriad of needs specific to the population served while also identifying how using SISP as members of a multi-disciplinary team can best target services and interventions.

Addressing the social-emotional, physical, and academic needs of students requires a continuum of services that includes licensed, school-employed specialized instructional support personnel with differing roles and expertise. We believe that collaboration is more effective than provisioning services based on profession. We look forward to continued progress on supporting students in local schools.

Christy McCoy, MSW, LICSW, is president of the Minnesota School Social Workers Association. Kevin Filter, Ph.D., NCSP is president of Minnesota School Psychologists Association.