The “Superintendent Zone” in Saint Louis Public Schools was put in place to respond to unmet student needs outside of academics. “If the family is struggling,” said Stacy Clay, assistant superintendent for Support Services, “we know the child is going to struggle,”
In 2014, Clay said, the district looked at academic performance, mobility rates, homeless students in transition, attendance rates and suspension rates to determine schools with greatest need. The 18 neediest schools were designated as the Superintendent Zone.
“Looking at the combination of factors, we were really able to tease out those schools that were the lowest performing, but also the ones most in need of wrap-around services,” Clay said.
“These are services provided by the social worker, the counselor and the nurse. These are non-academic services, but it’s providing social and emotional counseling resources to the students. Just as importantly, it’s about supporting the families.”
The Support Services Department includes nurses, counselors, social workers, enrollment services, family community specialists, students in transition, parent engagement, community education and afterschool.
While the social worker supplies support and connects resources to the families, Clay said the counselor provides in-school guidance to support a positive culture in the school.
“Counselors are trained to deliver lessons, especially at the elementary level, on what it means to be a good friend – anti-bullying, those kinds of things,” Clay said. “They are able to provide additional support to young people who may be having a particularly difficult time.”
Each of the Superintendent Zone Schools has a family and community specialist whose job is to engage families and, “Clay said, “bring them into the life of the school on a more regular basis.”
This includes setting up Parent Teacher Organizations and making sure they are functioning well, setting up events at the school – Muffins with Mom, Donuts with Dad – and organizing “informational nights about the academic program so parents are aware of what their children are being taught and how they can support them at home,” Clay said.
Support services can be triggered in many ways. At Columbia Elementary School, a school in the Superintendent’s Zone, the secretary calls the parent or guardian when a child is reported as absent. In most cases, once the issue is worked out, the school social worker will pick up the child and bring him or her to school.
Medical services are among the non-academic supports.
“In these schools in the most challenged areas, there are many health issues,” Clay said. “We are talking about diabetes, asthma, chronic conditions that you really need a nurse there every day monitoring.”
In addition to administering medication, the fulltime onsite nurse coordinates vision, dental, hearing, health screenings and immunization clinics. If it is determined that a child needs additional services, such as dental care and eyeglasses, they get free curbside service at the school – with their parent’s permission, of course.
School nurse Deborah Edwards said the Affinia dental van brings oral care to students and Healthy Kids Express offers screening for vision, hearing, height, weight and physical fitness. Kid’s Vision for Life and BJC HealthCare are district partners, she said.
Edwards said other community partners include the Amanda Luckett Murphy Hopewell Center, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Eastern Missouri and the Little Bit Foundation, which donates clothing for students who do not have proper clothing or hygiene items.
Hopewell provides an onsite counselor, Edwards said. Services provided include occupational therapy, speech therapy and psychological testing.
Clay noted that the funds that support the Superintendent Zone come from the desegregation settlement, which is dwindling.
“This upcoming year is the last year that we will have access to those dollars, and then they will dwindle significantly after that,” Clay said. “Part of our tax levy is to maintain those dollars that have been supporting schools in this very unique kind of way.”
An increase in the tax levy for the district is on the April 5 ballot in the city as Proposition 1. If passed, Proposition 1 would increase the operating tax levy for the district by $0.75. That equates to an additional $71.25 per year for the owner of a $50,000 home or $107.25 per year for the owner of a $75,000 home. This increase would generate an estimated $27.8 million in new revenue each year for the district and charter schools. A simple majority is needed to pass the initiative.