An innovative new suicide prevention program is slated to be launched at Helena High School next month, reported Helena Public Schools Superintendent Kent Kultgen at Tuesday night’s Helena School Board meeting.
The program by Montana State University’s Center for Mental Health Research and Recovery follows on the heels of a recent HHS suicide, which was the fifth one at the school in four years.
The program, Young Adult Mental Health Services, is aimed at training students to be aware of of signs someone may be suicidal, said Kultgen, and is based on a highly successful European program.
Although staff at Helena High School have received prevention training, said Kultgen, “one loop we left out is educating students.”
The YAMHS program, which is fully funded, is being implemented in Montana and Texas, he said. The MSU center will be working with Helena, Kalispell and Butte high school students.
He expects the center will make a public presentation in Helena in March.
State Rep. Mary Ann Dunwell, D-Helena, also addressed the school board, advocating legislation that would call for mandatory mental health screening for 11-to-17-year-old students.
Similar proposed legislation received a lot of pushback from school districts previously, she said.
Dunwell reported the screening was one of several recommendations made by Karl Rosston, the suicide prevention coordinator for the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services.
Other recommendations she shared were
conflict resolution training for students from first and second grade on,
early teaching of skills for facing bullying,
teaching kids what to look for as signs of a person in suicidal,
mandatory training of teachers in suicide prevention and
safe storage of firearms.
In other matters, the board called for an election by mail ballot for three K-12 board trustee openings, for seats currently held by Libbi Lovshin, Libby Goldes and Betsy Baur. Goldes plans to run for another term, however Baur and Lovshin do not.
Business services administrator Kim Harris gave an initial estimate of a proposed high school levy of $100,000 on the May 3 ballot, and an estimated $300,000 elementary levy. The sole nay vote was by trustee Karen Goldsberry, who opposed the proposed high school levy.
Ballot language will have to be finalized in time for printing and mailing of the ballots by April 13, Harris told the board.
A final decision on whether to run levies and the amounts to set will be voted on at a March board meeting, Kultgen said following the meeting.
Board candidates need to file paperwork by March 24 with the clerk of the district court. Candidates no longer need to obtain signatures, but must turn in a notarized form.
In other actions, the board approved the 2016-17 school calendar, which includes a shortened holiday break because Christmas lands on a Friday this year. In recent years, the break has been two weeks.
Baur and student representatives Aidan Reed and Hanna Ludlow said they’d heard from staff who preferred when the board held a poll to approve the calendar, rather than having it set by a committee.
Assistant superintendent Greg Upham said the district stopped doing the poll “because it was divisive.”
The committee weighed such concerns as parents needing childcare over a two-week break and also stress on low-income children who might not have adequate food, said Upham.
The board set March 17 for its next retreat with facilitator Virginia Tribe to work on developing the district’s educational vision.
Board president Aidan Myhre said the board realized at its recent retreat that it had to have a broader education vision to guide the district’s facility planning.
The board is aiming to work on a more comprehensive educational vision in March and April, with a completion deadline of May 1.
Trustee Cherche Prezeau urged the public to share its ideas about the district’s educational vision with the board.
The board briefly discussed the effect disruptive behaviors were having in the classroom.
Trustee Sarah Sullivan said she was struck by the common theme of behavioral problems in the board’s discussions with staff members at different schools.
Several board members suggested there should be some uniform guidelines on what are minor infractions and what are not.
However, trustee Terry Beaver, who is a retired teacher, cautioned against that approach, saying that what one teacher considers a minor infraction another teacher wouldn’t.
Some teachers never send a student to the office, he said, while other teachers send two or three students per day.
Kultgen suggested that the subject should be part of a future board presentation.
In other matters, it was announced that Helena School District was recognized by the College Board as one of 425 districts across the United States and Canada as a high-achieving AP School.
It was placed on the Sixth Annual AP District Honor Roll for increasing access to AP (Advanced Placement) coursework, while also maintaining or increasing the percentage of students earning scores of 3 or higher on AP exams.
AP is a College Board program offering college level curricula and exams to high school students.