Jessica Cejnar / Monday, Oct. 7, 2019 @ 5:19 p.m. / Education

Teachers, District Weigh-in On New Tool For Assessing Students' Social-Emotional Needs

A new program that seeks to which students may need more social and emotional support has generated concern among teachers.

The grant-funded program asks teachers to help identify behavioral trends using a set of screening questions and their own observations, according to Del Norte Unified School District Superintendent Jeff Harris. It’s not a psychoanalysis, Harris said, and isn’t a valid instrument for diagnosing an individual child. But it could be used to direct additional resources to a classroom that may need them, he said.

“It’s somewhere in the neighborhood of seven to 10 questions that asks a teacher whether or not (their students) have certain behaviors,” Harris told the Wild Rivers Outpost on Friday. “The intent of the social-emotional screener is to look at groups and clusters of children through the perception of those professionals who deal with them on a daily basis to say, ‘In looking at all of our students, these are the trends that we are seeing.’”

Harris said this is part of a grant that Del Norte High School instructor Lisa Howard, Leslie Machado, the district’s director of curriculum and instruction and Terrin Musbach, a district climate coach, successfully applied for. Harris said it’s connected with Multi-Tiered Systems of Support, which seeks to address problems early in students who are struggling academically.

However, Del Norte Teachers Association President Marshall Jones says a number of teachers are concerned with having to do a class-wide assessment of their students.

“For teachers to take on that role without fully understanding the purpose and how it’s going to be used is a little scary,” Jones said. “What if we don’t identify somebody, are we liable on that? There are more questions than there are answers at this point.”

According to Harris, the new program asks teachers to help identify how their students react to stressors in their lives. This could include observing when students are withdrawn or if they’re expressing their emotional needs in a healthy way, he said. Harris said this would help direct where the district should focus its resources.

Denise Robles, a district counselor at Smith River and Bess Maxwell schools, said “internalizers” are kids who may be withdrawn, quiet and have trouble making friends. “Externalizers” are youngsters who may hit, kick and steal, she said.

In addition to her own reservations, including not being informed that a letter was sent home with students, Robles said parents are also concerned.

“Parents are questioning why their children are being identified,” she said. “My worry is that it’s a subjective point of view because it depends on the student — where they’re at mentally, emotionally physically.”

Jones said district administrators also didn’t inform teachers they would be responsible for implementing this program.

This was an issue that was brought up at the district’s Sept. 26 school board meeting. Tom Kissinger, the district’s new assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, apologized for the lack of communication.

On Friday, Harris also acknowledged that while the new screening program was discussed at “various stakeholder meetings” at the end of the 2018-19 school year, there was no comprehensive training for teachers and staff before letters were sent home to parents.

Because of teachers’ concerns, Harris said, it may be awhile before this program is implemented in classrooms.

“I completely understand those teachers’ concerns,” he said. “I agree with those teachers’ concerns and we’ll work our way through this particular process, but we’re also developing another standard process we’re going to use, whether it’s at a site-based level or a district level to ensure this sort of thing doesn’t happen again.”


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