School Committee seeks funding for counselor
At the most recent School Committee meeting, Supt. Bob Hicks informed board members that he had received a request from Prevention Task Force (PTF) coordinator Jill Seppa asking that the school “assume funding and management responsibility for the [position of] Student Assistant Counselor (SAC).”
While acknowledging that schools do contribute to such positions through the federally funded program Drug Free Schools, he said wherever funding comes from “there is more than just the school’s responsibility; it’s a community responsibility as well.”
Hicks said it was an important conversation to have with the community and “should be brought into mental health services and discussed with the town and with taxpayers.” Hicks said that this year funding for the position had not been part of the school’s budget.
The Prevention Task Force is a state-funded, locally-based group that serves the community through developing drug and alcohol abuse prevention and wellness programming.
The position of SAC has been funded for 20 or more years by the PTF, which itself receives state funding, in order to provide activities and drug- and alcohol-related support to students in the school. However, with a sudden 30 percent cut in that funding, the task force found its resources critically diminished.
The role of the SAC was established by Rhode Island Student Assistance Services, which places counselors in each school to address the unique needs of middle, junior and senior high school populations. According to the local task force, there are six components of the program’s responsibilities: screening and assessment; prevention education series; individual sessions; group sessions; referrals and case-management and development of strategies within the community encompassing home, school and neighborhood.
The PTF described its mission as offering “integral support to the wellness of our children. Our programs build awareness of well-rounded healthy lifestyles… necessary to academic success. Building skills such as self-esteem, community awareness… [and] leadership are addressed in our programs.”
Jill Seppa, who made the funding request, explained that the local task force had maintained the SAC position at a salary of $7,900 covering a day and a half weekly within the school. Because of their unforeseen budget crisis, she said board members thought they should approach the school “to see if some funds might be available.”
She explained that it was important to find funding for the position because the task force needed other monies for running programs such as the annual Roots and Wings offered to sixth, seventh and eighth graders. These programs — one each per grade level — act as rites of passage for adolescents, who are asked to focus on “diversity, acceptance and creative expression, structuring positive life and team-building skills.”
The task force was also concerned that it could not continue to support critical programs if it had to keep underwriting the SAC position. Seppa was hoping the position might grow and thought it should ultimately be governed by the school administration.
With the position presently being considered separate from the school program, Seppa thought it should be integrated into it. Noting the post was currently under-utilized, she said, “It will increase the utilization of the position if she [Shannon Morgan] were accountable to someone in the school.”
Co-Prinicipal Kristine Monje said she had worked with Morgan for some time and also felt she was under-utilized. Monje observed that Morgan worked effectively in special programs within the classroom and also assisted with student council. “I have high hopes that we can use this position more,” Monje said. Seppa pointed out that Morgan was uniquely qualified and had a master’s degree in substance abuse counseling.
Revised dismissal procedures
In the interest of expanding security for students leaving the school building, Monje said she was alerted to the need when she recently worked in a crisis planning program with mainland schools. Right now, she said, “I would call our system ‘Block Island casual.’”
Essentially, the new system boils down to parents or guardians filling out a form at the beginning of the school year determining whether their child will walk, take the bus or be picked up [and by whom]. Monje said, “While it seems stringent for Block Island, it gives us a better understanding of where the kids go when they leave the school building.”
Monje added there would be an individual in the corridor checking off where students were going after dismissal. “We need to be more aware of where they go when they leave,” she said.
Supporting expanded bandwidth
Hicks said that he’d completed a resolution addressed to the Town Council supporting the expansion of bandwidth access for the local school. The resolution reads: “Hereby be it resolved by the New Shoreham School Committee that access to appropriate bandwidth and Internet connectivity by the Block Island School is essential to the school’s future success and that the support of the Town Council is requested in communicating with our elected representatives and urging them to take steps to the establishment of the necessary mainland connection in a timely manner.”
Presented as a motion, the resolution was unanimously approved by the board.
The board also voted to approve a contract with the East Bay Educational Collaborative, which is providing the island school with consultant services, having begun in August of 2013 and to conclude in December of this year. These services include work on school reform, professional development, the English Language Arts and literacy. The total cost of the services is $5,500.
Three requests for home schooling were approved by the board.
The next meeting is scheduled for Oct. 21.