Full Day Kindergarten and School-based Mental Health

Unlike most school districts in Santa Clara County, PAUSD has not offered full-day kindergarten to our families beyond two pilot programs. Superintendent McGee is bringing a proposal to the school board's budget study session on Tuesday morning, February 23,  to expand full-day kindergarten from the existing pilot programs at Barron Park and Palo Verde. I support that proposal.

Full-day kindergarten was one of the recommendations of the 2015 Minority Achievement and Talent Development task force. The task force identified full-day kindergarten as a critical intervention to prepare all students for success in elementary school and beyond. Full-day kindergarten has strong positive benefits for students' social-emotional and academic preparedness, and it has strong support from the elementary principals and from many elementary parents. Data from the Barron Park and Palo Verde pilots indicates that students realize benefits that persist well beyond kindergarten.

The staff proposal includes two options for full-day kindergarten, one with additional aide support (at a total additional cost of $647,000) and one without additional aide support (costing an additional $347,000). I'll focus in the board discussion on the benefits for students that can be expected from the additional expenditure for aide support. 

Working for Adequate Mental Health Supports for High School Students

The CDC recently launched a study of the tragic suicides among our teens, and it is clear that our community is still reeling from the blow inflicted by the loss of so many of our young people. But beyond these tragedies, many more of our students are struggling with mental health issues. At the February 9 school board meeting, district staff reported that according to the most recent survey data, PAUSD has 600 high school students who have experienced suicidal ideation and 1,200 who have experienced a serious episode of depression in the past year.

Nearly a year ago the school board voted $250,000 for more mental health services in our high schools. We did that because students' needs for mental health counseling services were not being met with the current resources. The high schools used those funds to hire staff members who have focused on coordinating and planning, rather than on providing services directly to students.

Coordination of services is important, but I am still committed to making sure that all of our students have access to the direct services that they need. I have heard from students and parents -- including the student board representatives and student speakers at board meetings -- that a significant number of students are still having difficulty in accessing school-based mental health services. To address this need, at the December 8 board discussion of supplemental budget appropriations for the current school year, I proposed allocating an additional $200,000 for direct services to students. These services would be provided by our partners including Adolescent Counseling Services (ACS) and Asian Americans for Community Involvement (AACI). That proposal received support from a majority of the board members, as well as from staff members. While I asked for immediate action, other board members preferred to wait until the January 12 meeting to vote on the proposal.

Unfortunately, mental health funding did not return to the board agenda until the February 9 school board meeting, when district staff brought a proposal for only $31,800 in funding for services, primarily for parent education from AACI for Mandarin, Korean, and Spanish-speaking parents. This proposal was further reduced for the board meeting on February 23 to include only $10,000 for the current school year, for parent education from AACI, but no increase in funding for direct therapeutic services to students. (The proposal does include $110,000 in funding for the 2016-17 school year, for a drug and alcohol counselor to be shared between the high schools and for parent education and direct services from AACI).

Based on my recent conversations with the leadership of both ACS and AACI, there is an immediate need for more experienced therapists at Paly and Gunn, and a substantial expansion in the therapy resources from AACI available to students of Asian and Hispanic descent. I'm disappointed that the staff proposal does not include an increase in services to students this year. Given the district's financial resources, there is no fiscal barrier to providing mental health services that are adequate to meet student needs. I'm hopeful that staff will revisit this issue and increase the funds in their proposal. I will continue advocate for more funding for school-based mental health at the board meeting on February 23.

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