A Message from our Superintendent, Dr. Anthony Smith - 11.19.19
Updated: Nov 20, 2019
Dear Riverview Community,
The purpose of this communication is to update you on our progress toward healing from our recent student suicides and our response as a school system, including student and staff support. The information that follows was highly influenced by student, staff, parent, and community feedback, in addition to the specific advice of local, regional, and national experts. Updates follow:
Response Roll-Out: We are using all feedback received from our schools, the community, and local, regional and national experts to inform our overall plan, which includes what we have done, what we are doing, and what we will do in the future. We are totaling responses and continually completing qualitative research to discern themes. Thus far, the themes have matched the efforts we have scheduled within a short-term (October-December), mid-term (2020), and long-term (2021-2025) plan. The main themes that have emerged from input from students, staff, parents, community members, and others include the following:
Support for Grief and Sudden Loss: We understand that this has impacted our entire PK-12 system and community members, including students, parents/guardians, administrators, classified employees, certified employees, schools, programs, volunteers, the entire community.
Response: We have contracted with a variety of agencies that extend beyond our Employee Assistance Program (EAP) and are offering individual and group sessions on grief and sudden loss. In sessions at schools thus far, we have received feedback from staff that this has been helpful. We are working with supervisors to schedule further support based on communication they are receiving from their employees. Our Director of Human Resources, Robert Gallagher, will be communicating specifics this week.
Supports and Tools
For parents, community, and students
A Community Wellness Task Force has been assembled and has set up a calendar of workshops, forums, events, and trainings. https://www.ourcommunitytogether.org
Conversations have started to implement Community Centers for teens outside the school district structure. This would be a safe and healthy indoor space for teens to hang out and participate in non-school activities.
Website and Communications
The Community Wellness Task Force has launched a website and is meeting regularly to manage and enhance content. https://www.ourcommunitytogether.org
In addition, the Riverview School District has added a Suicide Prevention, Education and Support section to the district website. http://www.rsd407.org/parents/student-safety/default.aspx
Curriculum / Resources / Training
Social emotional support
Training on how to support students through challenging issues, such as grief and sudden loss.
The bulleted list above was generated based on feedback and fits into the topic of Curriculum/Resources/Training. Much of this we are doing already. We are currently deciding what to prioritize, and then making sure it is aligned PK-12 to ensure a comprehensive approach. We have been in the process of adopting additional high school curriculum since January 2019. Curriculum has been identified and implementation will begin upon receipt of the curriculum. We are completing a gap analysis of our PK-8 grades to find out what needs to be addressed. We have added an entire section to our district website http://www.rsd407.org/parents/student-safety/default.aspx and have launched a Community Wellness Task Force website https://www.ourcommunitytogether.org as well. The Community Wellness Task Force will continue to meet regularly for the foreseeable future.
Counselor access and availability
Full-time resources have been added to CHS as a bridge to a plan to contract with an outside agency for full-time ongoing School Based Health Counselors at both TMS and CHS.
Reframing the Narrative: "This will happen again." Advice from Dr. Mary Schoenfeldt (International Disaster and Mental Health Emergency Management Expert)
A number of people are saying that "students are feeling that there will be another suicide...that it is simply a fact." We need to re-frame this as quickly as we can. The re-frame is something like: "It sure feels that way, doesn't it? What might you and I do together to make sure that doesn't happen?" I intentionally didn't use the word "we" because that can be misinterpreted to mean the adults. A re-frame like this moves people from the helpless victim position and the powerlessness of inaction. This will engage and encourage more conversation and gives the message that we all have a piece of this. This is a good tip for parents who may not know what to say to their children.
Recent Superintendent Video Message: For those of you that didn't see my YouTube message to the community on November 1, main points follow:
We know this is a crisis. We don't know all the answers. With the help of community involvement, we will find out together.Talk to your child and listen in a non-judgmental way. Allow your children to grieve and express their feelings. If you see that your child needs help, get help - whether its privately, through the school district, or through a variety of community organizations that exist.We have added an inclusive Community Wellness Task Force aimed at preventing these and other tragedies from happening in the future.If you are feeling sad or depressed, stay connected to other people. Reach out - that is my number one message for you.Everyone I know is sad or depressed at times. When I am sad, I talk to a friend and/or get outdoors for a walk. Please have some healthy strategies to prevent working on challenging issues in isolation. To our students, we are here to help, whether it is myself, or anyone else in the school district. Please call on us - that is why we are here. Know that we are grieving with you, support you, and want to help.
I appreciate everything the community is doing to support our students and families.
With high regard,
Dr. Anthony L. Smith
Riverview School District