The Grand County School District is asking for commitment from key leaders in the community to help alleviate problems in the community that interfere with a child’s ability to grow into a successful adult.
Superintendent J.T. Stroder and other district leaders say it isn’t enough anymore for issues affecting students to be addressed at school only, and that performance and behavior issues at school stem from broader problems at home or in the community.
District officials say they’re ready to help tackle some of those beyond-school problems, if leaders in the community are prepared to give a significant level of commitment to do the same.
“We’re not talking about academic interventions, but life-skills interventions and life-choices interventions,” Stroder said in an informal meeting with community leaders on Feb. 28.
Representatives from City of Moab, Moab City Police Department, Grand County Sheriff’s Office, Moab Regional Hospital and 7th District Juvenile Court met to discuss a possible new way to collaborate in order to solve problems that, while not specific to school, end up manifesting themselves there.
When things like bullying, drugs, poverty and mental health affect students, in the minds of many people it is a “school thing” precisely because it deals with kids, said school district board member Jim Webster. “But it’s not,” he said. “It’s a family thing, it’s a community thing.”
Nevertheless, school officials have realized, as Webster put it, “The school district is an anchor,” for efforts to combat those problems on a broad scale.
Or, as Stroder said, “If it affects the community, it affects the school district.”
The school district is taking a two-pronged approach to solve such problems. Officials and teachers are currently in the process of selecting a curriculum for character education to be implemented in the district’s schools. Stroder and school board members also want to consolidate and improve broader community efforts to solve problems that become barriers to good character as well as academic performance.
It’s going to take the proverbial village to achieve both, they say.
“In order for that to be effective, it’s got to go beyond the walls of the school,” Stroder said. “If we just do it at school, it’s not going to be sustainable and it’s not going to be effective.”
Stroder said the district is prepared to pay for a salaried, full-time position that would coordinate the efforts of myriad entities and coalitions that seek to do good and solve social ills, but that are too fragmented and sometimes counter-effective.
“It’s all good efforts that all these people are trying to make,” he said. “But it doesn’t seem like we’re all on the same page.”
Or, as Webster said, there was “some collaboration” among them, “but not enough integration.”
The new position Stroder proposed would be in charge of improving and coordinating such integration.
It’s something that’s been attempted before, noted Moab Regional Hospital CEO Jen Sadoff, particularly with a program called Communities That Care, something that many people acknowledge fell short of its goals.
Stroder feels that the lack of success was for two reasons: First, efforts lacked a person dedicated solely to the job of coordinating them; and second, while there was great passion on the part of service organizations or entities, the commitment and priority buy-in from key leaders was missing.
“I’m asking for commitment,” Stroder said, adding that he wants key leaders to take enough interest in the program to sit down and discuss it periodically, though regularly.
“Unless we get the feeling that key leaders are willing to sit down, we’re not prepared to go forward,” Stroder said. He wants leaders to consider the time set aside for such meetings as, “sacred.”
Because after all, he said, “Being an educator, I know programs don’t change kids — people change kids.”
He got the commitment he asked for, at least verbally, from those at the meeting.
Juvenile Court Judge Mary Manley saw the benefit of such a program, saying that so many entities placing requirements and accountability is sometimes burdensome on families that find themselves in her courtroom. There is real fatigue, she said, of so many agencies coming at families.
“We can do more harm than good,” Manley said.
Consolidating things could be beneficial, she and others agreed.
GCSO representative Darrel Mecham acknowledged the great need to provide something for kids who come from struggling families. He recalled his work with the county’s drug court several years ago, interacting with the children of families compromised by drugs.
“They are so hungry for a positive role model, it just breaks your heart,” he said.
The need for an effort of the kind suggested by Stroder was “huge,” Mecham added. “We just have to do it right.”