Local school officials are working on a district wide plan for improving students’ social and emotional health they are hoping to roll out next spring.
The plan will be geared toward communicating with both staff and parents, “so that we’re all on the same page,” Verona Area School District director of student services Emmett Durtschi told school board members in an update Monday on the Social Emotional Wellness Plan.
“It’s time in this district for us to have a comprehensive plan,” he said.
The components of the plan, which he said is tentatively set to be finalized by next March, include a list of guiding beliefs, goals and metrics, foundational practices and a race and equity imperative.
Behavior and social emotional learning have been much discussed in recent years, with parents coming to speak to the school board after major incidents and leveling frequent complaints about some schools’ handling of changes in district policy. Changes in recent years have included a focus on positive messages rather than responding to negative behaviors, which some parents have worried enables poor behavior.
Durtschi said the foundation for the plan is “strong, authentic relationships” for students with adults in the community, including teachers. To get those, he said, the district has to emphasize its work on various initiatives like restorative practices and Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports.
Board members were excited about the plan but had some questions about specific wording. Tom Duerst, for example, asked why one of the guiding beliefs called out “progressive discipline” instead of “appropriate discipline.”
“One group of people will say they like that word, another group of people will say they like my word,” Duerst said.
Durtschi and other board members stressed that whatever terminology is used in the final plan, it will be defined and clear.
“We want to make it a consumable document that informs how we operate,” board president Noah Roberts said.
The plan will be direct about “the fact that racism exists and that some of what happens is because of blind spots – unintended racism, as well as explicit racism,” Durtschi said.
He added that it stresses the need for culturally responsive learning environments.
“It’s time for us to create something that helps lay that out,” he said. “In order to disrupt racism around our responses to behaviors, we need to be as transparent as possible with what we expect and also what’s going to happen if (there’s a misbehavior).”
Consistency on the latter is also expected to be a key part of the plan, he said, ensuring that staff understand the expectations for responses to various situations.
Durtschi said while the plan will be finalized next spring and implemented by fall 2020, it will never be complete.
“This is the ongoing foundational work that a healthy district engages in forever,” he said.