- Wichita Falls ISD
- Fall 2018 Community Insider
By Mike Kuhrt
Hello Parents and WFISD Staff,
This year, one of my favorite new quotes is this one by William Pollard: “Learning and innovation go hand in hand. The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow.”
That’s the spirit that drove our decision to come up with a new strategic plan and take on some new ways to help children. We don’t want to rest on our laurels when we have so many children needing food, needing to feel safe, and needing a better life.
This need for social and emotional growth in WFISD children has been popping up over and over. So this past summer, I tapped Shonna Norton to help us sort out what we are doing to nurture children’s emotional growth. I’ve asked her to help us find new ways to recognize and support their physical, emotional and social needs in a more coordinated effort across the District.
Until recently, Mrs. Norton was our Coordinator of Federal and State Programs. But for the past 15 years, she has seen children’s needs from many angles – as a high school guidance counselor for three years at Wichita Falls High School, as a college and career advisor for three years at Hirschi High School, and as an assistant principal. She was also a math teacher at Old High. She’s a certified counselor and administrator and has a personal passion for helping make students’ lives better, especially for the part of the day they spend with us.
Her new job is Director of Social and Emotional Services. The need for this new position has come from the evolving needs of our community – and society in general. Our school counselors, At-Risk Coordinators, and social workers are maxed out with a prescribed set of responsibilities, yet there are still gaping needs in children’s lives that aren’t being addressed and hinder their learning. We need to make sure we are identifying and meeting needs for students with mental health issues and personal situations that make coming to school and learning more difficult for them.
Here’s what’s getting our immediate attention. Mrs. Norton is evaluating and adjusting our current system. She is pinpointing ways to expand our services to address students’ physical, social and emotional needs. We also want our staff trained to be “trauma informed,” and she is studying how to best do that. We want all of us to be alert and aware of the signs children send out that show they might need a little extra attention or help. Third, we want our staff trained to identify a crisis situation and respond quickly to connect the child or his parents to a counselor or community service.
We want to be very transparent about everything we are doing. We want our families to know what services are available to them in WFISD and throughout the community. For example, our counselors provide academic guidance. In a pinch, they can provide emergency services – but not long-term. That’s not how school counseling is set up. However, we’ve partnered with STARRY Counseling which is able to offer free counseling to students In need. Mrs. Norton is finding ways that this organization can get involved with students and their families in many areas. It’s easy for us to introduce them to STARRY Counseling and show them how to take advantage of it. For example, STARRY has been working with truancy students and their parents, but we are looking at ways to make that service more accessible and meaningful by providing the program at the campus so parents do not have to set up additional sessions at STARRY.
Mrs. Norton is connecting our secondary campuses with NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness. We like its “Ending the Silence (of mental health issues)” program. Its training focuses on students in grades 6-12, plus there are staff-training and parent-training components.
Our schools have always done a wonderful job of reaching out and meeting students’ needs – you know that. But the needs of our society are growing. We need a uniformity of approach from school to school, and our hard-working counselors, social workers, At-Risk Coordinators, teachers and administrators need the help of a central person to approach organizations and organize their help for our schools. That’s Mrs. Norton.
I think you can feel good about this: We are taking steps to make sure all our students feel safe at school. We are putting plans in place so that they will know they have someone they can go to if they have a concern about themselves – or a friend. We want them to know we are a resource for them. We are not just people who teach them, make them do homework and send them on their merry way. We care about them as people. We want to put programs in place to help them before they harm themselves. We want them to have successful and happy lives when they’re all done here.
How will all of this impact you? Will new initiatives be just more things for your To Do list? No. I believe there will be many benefits that will come your way from our efforts in this area. Studies show students will learn their content better if they feel safe and if their social and emotional needs are met. Students who feel less fear and stress at school have better attendance, higher grades, and fewer behavior incidents. Our outreach in this area is not just something we need counselors to do; it’s really a team effort by all of us. And it will benefit teachers, administrators and students across the board.
This is all part of a grand plan to ready students for one big day: The day AFTER graduation. You’ve heard me say that we want students to have a plan – not just to graduate – but for the day AFTER they graduate. Are they going to college? To work? To the military? That may seem like a plan that can be developed in high school, but really such a plan grows out of decisions that start much earlier, even as far back as kindergarten and pre-school. We must meet students’ social and emotional needs along with their academic needs or they’ll never have the confidence or stability to develop that plan.
If we simply start this process in high school, then we have only four years to ready them for their big day. But if we start in kindergarten or pre-K, we have 14 years to begin meeting the needs that will build them into the confident, secure graduate that we envision for them.
As William Pollard said, “Learning and innovation go hand in hand.” That’s true in the classroom – and in our awesome plans for the District’s future. If you have any input for Mrs. Norton or me on this crucial subject, please speak up.
We need all hands on deck on this one.