West Jeff Schools adds social worker to staff

(Posted June 15, 2017)

By Linda Dillman, Staff Writer

A new face will greet Norwood Elementary students this year as school board members approved a social worker position for the West Jefferson school.

“Essentially, our kids and families in socioeconomic stress are coming to us with so many needs,” said Superintendent William Mullett.

“Literally, all the ills you hear about in society are what we have to work with through our kids. We want to help kids feel secure and be able to learn, and thought this was more effective than a guidance counselor.”

Mullett said there are no grants to help offset the cost of salary and benefits for the position, so the school district is absorbing the entire cost, which he estimated to be $40,000 to $50,000 for a licensed social worker.

“You have to make choices, even with scarce resources,” Mullett said.

Norwood Principal Sue Barte said she is in the process of interviewing potential candidates for the new position.

Dean of Students Shawn Buescher updated board members on changes to the district’s attendance policy following alterations made at the state level.

“We changed all of our days for absences into hours,” said Buescher.

A half day absent is now equivalent to three hours, and a full day equals six hours.

Parents or guardians are still required to call into the school office when their student is going to be absent. Any absences after 10 days need a doctor’s excuse.

Another change is the timeframe for notification of excessive absences to 38 hours in a month and/or 65 hours in a year. After 61 hours, the district could file truancy charges with the juvenile court system.

“The district Absence Intervention Team would schedule a mediation hearing with the student and parents at 38/65 hours,” Buescher reported. “(However) if mediation is not successful, we cannot file until 61 hours after the hearing.

“We used to be able to file a little earlier. (Students) could now possibly miss a lot more school. That’s what we’re working on right now.”

Despite the changes, Buescher said he will continue to reach out to parents at regular intervals, and Madison County truancy officer Mitch Gargac will continue to make home visits throughout the process.

“Much of which the district was already doing,” Buescher said. “We will not suspend or expel a student because of attendance.

“The workload is going to increase. We’re going to have to be more active between that 61-day period.”

Barte said Norwood has a lot of attendance issues, too. Mediation was implemented at the school and she said she personally followed up with several no-contact situations when a student was absent and no one called.

“The social worker will help with us getting to them a little earlier,” Barte said.

In other action, the board approved a contract with Madison Health to serve as the district’s athletic trainer. Madison Health is working in conjunction with Nationwide Children’s Hospital.

The $12,000 annual agreement is the same as last year and an orthopedic surgeon is assigned to the district.

“Those folks contacted us earlier this year,” Mullett said. “They showed they were very interested in working with us. London (City Schools) uses them and is very happy as well.

“We weren’t in any way unhappy with Orthopedic One. We didn’t intend to switch gears, but the more we talked (with Madison Health), the more it sounded like a good fit. They are local. The opportunities and resources are pretty much limitless.”

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