The school board must respect the involved parents and the supportive community
The superintendent’s contract was on the agenda of a school board workshop this week. This was a point of contention in the community and was the beginning of the end for the last superintendent before this one. It has a historical transparency problem and at least one school board member had, and apparently still has, contempt for public comment on the contract.
We were surprised that there was absolutely no backup of the agenda, nor the contract, included in the package on the Sunday before the Tuesday workshop meeting. It was like deja vu and we were concerned about what was hidden from the public.
In 2019, Argus remained largely silent on several issues involving this superintendent. The contract, its terms and the way it was hidden from the public and presented on the fly at a school board meeting was when we decided it was time to talk about the issue of failure leadership at the time. We wrote an op-ed in the Herald-Tribune and from that point it was a downward spiral leading to the departure of the superintendent and our new superintendent today.
The school board’s current mission, according to its website, is: “The Sarasota County School District prepares students to achieve the highest standards of learning by engaging high-quality staff, engaged parents, and a supportive community.”
Mission statements are the reason for being or the purpose of an organization. They determine how the organization will serve its stakeholders.
The Argus Foundation has focused on the “learning standards” portion of the mission statement for the past few months. We have published various statistics about our school district compared to other districts and the state average in our Sarasota School Data Dig social media project. We did so without comment, editorialization or blame. This was done to try to redirect the conversation from our school board and the public to academics, as many of our scores show we need to change.
Many people were shocked by the stats we released and had no idea we had the issues we were experiencing. This indicates that there is a lack of commitment on the part of academics and brings us to the last six words of the mission statement, “involved parents and a supportive community”.
We hope that the school board will devote more time to academics and their improvement, but it is equally important that they have partners among parents and the community.
Hiding this contract until the last minute was not a trustworthy action leading to the confidence of the stakeholders. It was a public document from the start and one of the most important actions to represent the public that the school board can take. The public should have been allowed to intervene with the school board, at least through calls and emails, a few days before the workshop where changes were made.
The Argus Foundation publicly posted the contract on social media the Sunday before the Tuesday meeting after we requested it from a member of the school board, who by law was obligated to give it to us. We did this without comment, just like we did with scores and stats. We’ve also republished our 2019 op-ed on the superintendent’s contract at the time, stating only generally that the lessons from then still hold true today.
It is important that this school board refocus on its mission and apply it, without resentment at having to engage its partners and stakeholders. Transparency will be a key determination of the school board’s intent with respect to this relationship.
Although the start of this contract was not good, we sincerely hope that this superintendent’s contract can end better than the previous one. It will take leadership to get there.
Christine Robinson is Executive Director of the Argus Foundation.
Transforming youth mental health care now and forever
We know that one of the biggest issues in our country today is mental health care for our young people. Untreated mental illness in children and young adults can devastate individuals and destroy their families. According to the World Health Organization, worldwide, one in seven young people aged 10 to 19 suffer from a mental disorder. The State of Mental Health in America shows that a growing percentage of young people in the United States are living with major depression. In addition, 15.08% of young people experienced a major depressive episode in the last year, an increase of 1.24% compared to last year. This is why at Gulf Coast Community FoundationWe do everything we can to improve the mental health care system for young people and adolescents in our region.
Through the Here4YOUth Initiative of the Gulf Coast Community Foundation and Charles & Margery Barancik Foundation, a collaborative consortium of social service organizations lead a unified system of care for children and families. In fact, Insider Here4YOUth started a Family Peer Navigator post at NAMI Sarasota and Manatee Counties, to help Sarasota County families with children under 25 who are experiencing mental health issues. The role of the navigator is to help families navigate systems, connect families to community resources, and create skill-building opportunities to support resilience and recovery. The role has been successful in helping families with children with mental health issues navigate our care system, strengthening families and creating a local YOUTH MOVE chapter for young adults to connect with each other. Sarah Miller, the family navigator, is highly skilled and revered as an expert throughout the state.
A success story from NAMI Sarasota and Manatee counties on the Family Peer Navigator experience details how a single mother, her elderly mother and her 11-year-old child needed help. The child has benefited greatly from the connections and relationship established between herself and the young peer specialist. The child’s hospitalizations decreased significantly from every month (or every two months) to almost a year without hospitalization, as the child began to demonstrate stabilization and the mother began to feel empowered. This mother has not only grown up successfully, but is now an incredible resource and leader for NAMI’s family programs and has demonstrated an interest in supporting family navigation for other families. Stories like these show the breadth and importance of peer support for our young people.
Summer can also be difficult for young people, as they lack a school structure. This summer, we hope families will support the Tips for Healthy Schools from the CDC which include good stress management through physical activity and healthy thinking; build relationships with others by encouraging social interaction and emotional awareness; and make healthy choices about how they eat and play. Things like learning a new dance move or playing games that encourage movement for your child are suggested. Nutrition and emotional well-being are also covered, including eating fruits and vegetables at every meal, giving your child a new age-appropriate responsibility, reducing screen time and more.
At Gulf Coast, we take steps to improve the region’s mental health care system for youth and young adults every day. We would like to thank the Sarasota County Commission for creating a “mental health funding district” that will need future support. With concrete actions and community-wide support, we continue to build momentum. We will not give up the fight for young people who need this essential support.
Mark Pritchett is President and CEO of the Gulf Coast Community Foundation.
Gulf Coast courtesy photo: Sara Miller, navigator.