(Canton, Ohio) – The Canton City School District is dedicating millions of dollars to better address behavioral health and other student issues.
“This is about the changing nature of society, students and the role the school district plays,” explained Superintendent Adrian Allison. “There was a time when schools could “write off” certain students such as students with disabilities, English learners, and students who engaged in adverse behaviors. We could just suspend or expel students who did not behave and there was no accountability towards those students. Or we paddled them and sent them back to class.”
However; according to Allison that is no longer the reality for the Canton City School district or many others. Earlier this month Allison presented a plan to the school board of education that includes spending roughly $2 million on hiring to address issues related to adverse behavior, learning climate, chronic absenteeism, and leadership continuous improvement. “Today, we can not overlook the educational needs of any of these children. In addition, mental health issues are prevalent with students,” added Allison.
Allison outlined several areas to consider when looking for more effective ways to address the school learning climate and adverse student behavior. Among the focus areas, he hopes to continue work to create a positive behavior and expectations framework and to consider the Y.E.S. Classroom (You’re Expected to Succeed) program, which is an alternative to suspension.
The Y.E.S. Classroom could be implemented in all PK-8 buildings with the high school continuing with the ‘Possibilities for Pups” Classroom. The program would be staffed by both classified and certified staff members with the instruction composed of social/emotional and actual class work and all students would be eligible. “This is not about specific situations or instances,” added Allison. “Suspensions and expulsions are down, but student behavior is getting worse, especially as it relates to factors outside of school i.e. disputes on social media.”
Allison also noted options for schools have changed when considering alternatives to suspension. Areas listed within his presentation to the board include: state laws and policies against suspension, SAFE Act; accountability system “punishes” suspension; and schools are responsible to educate all.
The district also has established a strong relationship with Harvard to address chronic absenteeism and the Deans of Students are expected to establish plans, implement and monitor student behavior plans and provide professional development for teachers.
Another key component of the plan proposed by Allison is the creation of the Office of Mental Health and Wellness. The program would include social-emotional learning curriculum highlighting youth mental health first aid. It would also focus on what has been deemed, by the Centers for Disease Control and other health professionals, a Suicide Contagion in Stark County; by adding staff such as counselors, mental health providers, and success coaches.
“My biggest concern is staffing,” noted Allison. “We can do anything with the appropriate resources and support. I think these interventions will no doubt work, but buildings will need manpower.”
Added positions will include five deans of students divided among the high school and middle school levels, 19 teachers who will address behavioral issues in special classrooms, a director of mental health and wellness, and an additional assistant principal.
“This investment in behavioral health is our way of saying that we want and need to design a school system to meet the needs of today’s students,” said Allison. “We have become the primary social service agency for students and families. We can’t ignore that fact but must adjust to meet them where they are.”
Allison also indicated the district is in strong financial standing and has the budget to cover the added cost. “Our May 5 year forecast has positive projections in excess of $15 million,” he said. “In other words, under our current financial position, we can afford to make this investment. We will, however; be conducting an efficiency review of our entire district this year and will be looking for opportunities to reduce overall district expenditures.”
Allison noted there is a lot of work to do, but the district hopes to implement the new programming and staff members at the start of the 2018-2019 school year.