HCS mental health services report

Haywood County Schools Superintendent Trevor Putnam said that despite budget cuts, the district has maintained as many mental health services as it couild. File photo Haywood County Schools Superintendent Trevor Putnam said that despite budget cuts, the district has maintained as many mental health services as it couild. File photo

Haywood County Schools has increased the number of people it employs to care for and monitor students’ mental health this year, largely due to increased funding from the county commission that allowed for additional school resource officers. 

“I’m proud of the amount of services we have available,” said Putnam. “We’re always looking to improve and increase those.”

Each year, school administration is required to present information on the status of its mental health support personnel and services. Putnam gave this report to the Board of Education during its March 11 meeting.

Haywood County Schools will maintain six psychologist positions and 19 school counselors through the 2023-24 school year, the same number it had during the previous school year.

“Keep in mind we had budget cuts in between, so we maintained as much of this as we possibly could,” said Putnam.

The school system currently has eight school nurses, five social workers and three licensed clinical social workers.

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Putnam applauded Brandi Stephenson who manages the licensed clinical social workers.

“That is a therapeutic position which most school systems do not have,” said Putnam. “And Miss Stephenson found a way to offset the cost of those licensed clinical social workers through our ability to bill Medicaid. She’s done a great job.” 

Licensed clinical social workers employ the appropriate clinical interventions in situations that impact student’s access to education.

“This is a resource that we ordinarily would not have, and these people are key in threat assessments and risk assessments throughout our school district,” Putnam said. “So we’re very grateful to have these positions.”

The school system had 10 mental health behavioral assistance positions during the 2022-23 school year that were paid for with ESSER funding, federal funds given to public school systems to help offset costs incurred during the COVID pandemic. That funding runs out this year, and the school system has now dropped to 8.5 mental health behavioral assistance positions this school year.

“It would have dropped more significantly were it not for the efforts of Miss Barker and Dr. Crook, who wrote a grant to the Dogwood Health Trust and were awarded funds to continue to support at least that many positions so that we could keep those counseling assistants in place,” said Putnam.

During the 2022-23 school year Haywood County Schools had seven School Resource Officers. That number jumped to 15 this year thanks to funding from the Haywood County Commission, which provided for eight additional positions. The positions cost the county an additional $1.48 million which required an additional 1.5 cents on the county’s property tax rate.

Whereas previously SROs had to rotate schools to cover the system, now there is an officer at each individual school.

“We are very grateful for our SROs,” said Putnam.

This brings the school system up to 64.5 positions relating to mental health compared to 58 positions during the previous school year.

In addition to personnel, the school system has invested in the Say Something App, an anonymous reporting tool that allows students to self-report, or report for someone they care about in regard to their mental health status.

“We encourage our students to use that,” Putnam said. “It truly is anonymous.”

Haywood County Schools also employs two steppingstones teachers who teach students that are unable to participate in the traditional school environment whether due to behavior issues, mental health or safety concerns.

“That’s another support we provide for kids that are in crisis and may be having some behavior troubles,” said Putnam.

Each school in the system has a risk assessment team that identifies, evaluates and addresses threats or potential threats to school safety. That team is usually comprised of the principal, school resource officer, mental health professionals, licensed clinical social workers and teachers.

The school system has one behavior specialist who conducts functional behavior assessment and develops behavior intervention plans for students that have behavioral social emotional concerns.

“The behavior specialist also assists teachers in applying behavior support strategies in the classroom,” Putnam said.

The school system recently started utilizing a program called Linewize for monitoring student devices.

“This service allows us to detect students in crisis,” said Putnam. “Some of the kids use the email or chat function of their devices just like texting, so it’s become a valuable monitoring device. We have learned of kids in crisis through Linewize.”

Linewize monitors the Chromebooks that students in the school system are assigned, scanning for certain trigger words or phrases.

“We’re doing all that we possibly can to stay abreast of the goings on of our students and especially those who might be in crisis,” said Putnam. “I’ll just give credit to our principals and assistant principals and counselors and others who monitor the feedback provided by these monitoring systems.” 

According to Putnam, feedback and alerts on the Limewize system can come through at any hour of the day and night. He expressed his appreciation for the administration that monitor Linewize alerts.

“These alerts are coming in at all times of the night and [our administration, counselors and SROs] are having to wake themselves up, pull themselves away from family and make sure the appropriate authorities are notified and that these kids are checked on in the appropriate fashion,” Putnam said. “So it’s a lot of work. It’s valuable work. It’s very important work, but it’s hard work. We’re grateful for them.”

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