DUSD to roll out social worker pilot project in Surprise

[file photo courtesy of Dysart Unified School District]

By Jennifer Jimenez, Independent Newsmedia

The Dysart Unified School District officials say they are working on a pilot they hope to roll out in January 2019.

This social worker pilot program, which would include hiring five social workers who hold a master’s in social work who will be placed at four elementary schools and high school.

Director of Student Services Karen Winterstein said 16 people were involved in conducting the research of the pilot program, including site and district-level members and parents.

“The work at hand was to look at the history of the supportive positions in Dysart and the different job descriptions. We knew we previously hired social workers, as well as K-8 and high school counselors who work with students and we wanted to understand the current positions that not only support students, but also families,” Ms. Winterstein explained. “We also wanted to look at our needs and many data points including other districts and really come up with a recommendation as to what our job description would look like to best fit our needs.”

Ms. Winterstein said some of the major responsibilities for the social workers will include being an important liaison between the school, families and students and facilitating important communication with outside resources.

She said the position would require short term, small group responsiveness, social skills, conflict resolution, grief, loss and can represent both adults and students.

“Intervention, prevention and transitional support are important to this role because we have students who come and in out of various services and that also requires site teams support and resource coordination,” Ms. Winterstein said. “This also includes working with 8th graders who are making the transition into high school and are typically used to traveling in smaller groups.”

Ms. Winterstein informed the board it was equally important to understand what the new positions would not include.

“Will not provide on-going counseling for students and are not responsible for students with IEP for specific goal measures or data collection for progress towards those goals,” Ms. Winters said. “We wanted to separate the position from disciplinary response, so we are strongly suggesting this person would not have supervision duties. If possible, we want this person to not be the initial responder during crisis as they help rebuild and restore; however, whoever needs to be communicating with the families should be doing so and we also don’t want this position to replace any staff member or teacher communication, as that would be additional.”

Governing Board President Traci Sawyer-Sinkbeil asked about specific roles for the position on an IEP team. Ms. Winterstein reiterated the person can provide information as a resource; but said she would not want them to be inundated by duties already fulfilled by existing staff members.

The pilot program is isolated to the five campuses as they will be used as a data collection tool and will be included in stakeholder feedback to make any necessary revisions as Dysart looks at full implementation.

Governing board member Christine A.K. Pritchard thanked Dysart Superintendent Dr. Quinn Kellis for this pilot program, saying as a licensed clinical social worker, she is pleased there is going to be a correctly defined job description for this position, according to their profession and licensure.

“It is so important not only we are serving our students correctly and for success for this program and possible rollout we want to see some success. I like seeing this would not including counseling and I know in the past we would provide some counseling in an IEP case-by-case basis, but it was clear it was not therapeutic, but helping them be more successful in a school setting,” Ms. Pritchard said.

Assistant Superintendent for Support Services Jim Dean said the intent is when the district has a student in crisis the first thought is to send the social worker. While a threat assessment is an important process for a social worker, they don’t want them to be the initial contact.

“We want them to work on the restorative piece with student and family and we don’t want to make a routine when a student is in crisis to send the social worker. We want to protect them from having this occur,” he said.

Ms. Pritchard also said moving forward she wants to ensure the district is being fiscally responsible and they do implement more than five district-wide to be able to show why.

Mr. Kellis said given the state of society it is one of those difficult decisions of finance over services and for a long time the district implemented cuts for the sake of balancing the budget.

“But we do have access to mix moneys and have intent to look at more sustainable resources. As you mentioned it is a need and its perceived our low income families have the greatest needs, but even our neighborhoods that are more affluent has great needs and they are different, but the resources that a social worker can provide there are just as important,” Mr. Kellis explained.

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