SELMA – With schools about to start this week and in light of recent mass shootings, the topic of safety protocols and mental health needs came up repeatedly at Selma Unified School Board’s most recent meeting.
In making plans to attend a Fresno County school safety symposium next month, SUSD Superintendent Tanya Fisher said she’s been fielding calls from worried parents in the days leading up to the start of classes on Aug. 13.
“I’ve gotten calls from parents who are concerned [asking] ‘are we ready?’ and ‘are our school safety plans in place?’” Fisher told Board members during the Aug. 6 meeting. “We reassured them and we’re giving instructions to administrators during the first day and week of school to reiterate to parents about school safety.”
To prepare, the Fresno County Superintendent of Schools is hosting a safety symposium where SUSD officials, board members and other Fresno County school leaders will get updates from the F.B.I., Fresno County Sheriff’s Department and County’s District Attorney at the Sept. 5 event.
This is just one step the District and Board members are taking to be prepared and deal with mental health issues that many believe are a root cause of shootings across the nation.
Teachers’ union President Roxanne Garrigus Case was present at the meeting and emphasized the need to train students how to use the Sprigeo reporting program where they can anonymously report a variety of safety issues. See the link for that program at https://app.sprigeo.com/.
“Hanford was using it and one of the things they said is to get it to work it’s really important to go to every classroom and make sure the kids really understood what it was. The older kids should add it to their phones.
In light of some of the recent tragedies, I don’t know if the kids know where to go to report somebody they know is really struggling or has weapons. It’s a good time to talk with our principals to go in and make contact with each student to make sure they know [Sprigeo] is available.”
SUSD Board President Jennifer Winter said she was glad to see a national suicide prevention line, crisis phone number and Selma Police’s regular dispatch line added to the back of high student ID cards this year, but she thinks even younger students should have that, and more, information.
“Having Sprigeo on the back of all the district ID badges, including the elementary kids, would be a fantastic idea.”
Abraham Lincoln Middle School’s new Principal Sato Sanikian said they’ll look into adding that information to ID badges at the middle school level.
“We’ll go through that at our class meetings. I did that at the high school and mentioned [to students] if you feel you can’t come to us, they can use that as a tip line. We did get a couple, so we right away got on that and it was during spring break so we contacted Selma PD.”
The District is also looking at its student discipline system through a special task force and Fisher said they’d just had a first meeting the day before.
Two sessions of professional development that district staff will undergo again this year include Mental Health First Aid and Kognito, an online suicide prevention program.
SUSD’s Director of Instruction, Curriculum, and Assessment Stella Padron-Duarte presented the list that described these trainings:
Mental Health First Aid is an international program proven to be effective. Peer-reviewed studies published in
Australia, where the program originated, show that individuals (teachers) trained in the program:
- Grow their knowledge of signs, symptoms and risk factors of mental illnesses and addictions.
- Can identify multiple types of professional and self-help resources for individuals with a mental illness or addiction.
- Increase their confidence in and likelihood to help an individual in distress.
- Show increased mental wellness themselves.
Kognito provides an online suicide prevention professional learning program. Participants meet a virtual coach and learn about mental health and how to identify at-risk students, approach them and their parents, and connect them to helpful resources.
Although the state requires the training and there is a cost - $22,000 - for the Kognito program, Board President Winter said it’s worth the expense. She thinks teachers of even younger students down to pre-kindergarten should have the training.
“Why can’t we go beyond the state mandate and provide the suicide prevention and mental health first aid to our [kindergarten] through sixth staff? It starts there. It doesn’t all of a sudden pop up in secondary. Personally, I’d love to see some training brought all the way down to our primary teachers, even pre-[kindergarten]. I’m sure there are programs out there. I know we’re trying to save money, but I think there are somethings that are worth spending money on. Mental health and safety are two of those big things.”
Other items on the agenda included:
A $36,381.99 purchase of track equipment from Aluminum Athletic Equipment Co. for Selma High’s all-weather track. Coaches Alex Reyes and Haskell Hensen gave input on the equipment needed to run league meets and potentially host area track meets. Items such as hurdles, starting blocks, high jump pit packages and carts will be purchased. At a later date, a timing system will be purchased.
Merced’s Creative Alternatives was approved to provide services for two students with behavior issues. The estimated cost is $89,000 for one student and $61,000 for the second.
Teixeira said typically a percentage of these funds are reimbursed through the Fresno Special Education Local Plan Area. For the first student, $81,183 may be reimbursed. For the second student, $51,476 may be reimbursed. Reimbursements are based on the number of claims submitted by districts in the area.
Creative Alternatives serves kindergarten through high school seniors who have various behavioral and emotional needs where they cannot make educational progress in a public school.
The program enables students to obtain a quality education and skills for re-entry into a public school setting. Each classroom has up to 12 students. A credentialed special education teacher gives instruction and is aided by two teaching assistants. Lessons are derived from California State Standards and then individually modified to help students prepare for transition to their public school. Students also have access to psychological counseling, behavioral support management and other specialized services.
Campus safety assistants
Assistant Superintendent Teresa Wood’s proposal to increase and reconfigure hours for campus safety assistants at Garfield, Roosevelt and Jackson and Washington elementaries was approved to allow more supervision of students. Depending on each school’s needs, assistants will help when students are being dropped off and picked up, during lunch and at recess.
It winds up equating to a total of two more hours and depending on each assistant’s salary, will cost the District from between $30,324 - $38,771 from the general fund to add the time to these staff members’ hours.
All of SUSD’s board policies will be reviewed in a comprehensive audit, Superintendent Fisher said. It’s been since 2006 since an audit this extensive has been performed. The policies will be posted on the District’s website as they are revised and approved so anyone may access and research them more efficiently.
“Our policies will be maintained live on the website, instead of a PDF, so anyone can access the policies,” she said. “We’ll be going through them by each division and department, looking at them and then bringing them to you all for you to make recommendations. We’ll make edits and then the board will give us feedback.”
Emerson College affiliation
A clinical affiliation was approved with the Boston school, Emerson College. A Clovis student will be completing their practicum course work in Communications Disorders and requires the supervision of a speech and language therapist. A local SUSD therapist has volunteered to supervise this student who must meet appropriate background checks prior to being placed at SUSD schools.
Assistant Superintendent Larry Teixeira introduced the possibility of increasing the first tier of developer fees on local home and commercial construction to $3.79 per square foot of new construction. The current level is $2.97.
Teixeira said the increase allows the District to raise funds to build new classrooms with housing developers sharing the cost of that effort.
Caldwell, Flores, Winters, the firm that helped the District pass the Measure O bond, was hired to do a study gauging how many homes are being built in town, what the current cost is to build a school and how much room for students the District currently has.
“Part of that formula includes how many classrooms are portable,” Teixeira said. The report showed SUSD is overcrowded by an estimated 1,000 students and that a second level of fees could be increased as well to $4.18. That would bring developers’ fees to $7.97 per square foot. Comparatively, schools in Fresno are charging secondary fees at more than $5.
“The question I get from developers is, ‘when are you going to raise your fees?’ because we’re lower than other districts,” he said. The board will revisit the matter at its next meeting in two weeks. If approved, the increase would take effect in 60 days.
Staley Stadium update
Selma High’s stadium is undergoing a major renovation and there have been issues securing the lightings footings. However, Teixeira said field lights are finally up. Another change order is a request by Cal Water to install a fire hydrant on the north side, he said.
“It was quite a process,” he said of getting the lights installed. “The bleachers are still getting some finishing touches, but we’re happy with the way those turned out.”
Teixeira said the City of Selma will also be allowing excess rain water to be discharged into the gutters in case of a severely wet winter. This will avoid the track being water logged and possible damaged by sitting water.
There are already two wells in the north end of the stadium, however because of the amount of rain this past winter, “[the wells] couldn’t handle all the drainage. So we’ll have a process that comes up from the drainage dry wells and takes it to the gutters. It’ll cost $25,000 to have that done, but if it’s a choice between having that or the track act as a drainage pond, that’s not going to work.”
Curb change at Roosevelt
The street and curb changes on Floral Avenue in front of Roosevelt Elementary have been completed. School officials are hoping City staff can paint the curb red to indicate it is a no-parking zone before school starts “so there’s no debate whether parking’s allowed on that curb or not,” Teixeira said. Plastic cones will be placed there if the curbs aren’t painted in time and a Selma Police officer will also patrol that specific area to help enforce non-parking laws.
Joint meetings with City Council
Fisher let the SUSD Board know that Selma’s City Council has been requesting to meet in quarterly meetings with the school board members.
None of the board members favored the idea though since the two boards deal with separate matters. There are safety issues they coordinate with through the Selma Police Department regarding officers on campus and other safety issues.
“My own opinion is, we work with the City Manager. There’s no reason to hob knob with those guys,” SUSD Trustee Roger Orosco said.
Fisher attends City Council meetings as needed and coordinates with City Manager Teresa Gallavan as needed, she said.
“That’s how it worked last time. If there’s things we need to share, we share, but City business is City business,” Fisher said.
Trustee Paul Green was more direct.
“That’s my point. What we do here, just to be blunt, it’s not their business. And the decisions they make, it’s not our business. We’re two completely different entities. Granted, we need to work with the Police and City on some things. I see nothing positive of the five of us sitting with the five of them.”
Fisher said she’d bring back school-related items from any Council meetings back to the board.
Abraham Lincoln’s new Principal Sato Sanikian was complimented by Board President Jennifer Winter for hitting the ground running and keeping parents informed of school requirements and policies.
“We had a great team effort and it was so nice to see the team work of everybody. It was very professional and organized,” Sanikian said of student orientations held prior to the start of the school year. A meet and greet with parents and seventh and eighth graders is scheduled for 6-6:30 p.m. Aug. 19. “We want to capture that moment with the parents to share with them a few things we’ve addressed with the students.”
Staley Stadium wall of honor
Fisher added that a campaign is about to get underway to seek sponsors for Staley Stadium. A wall will be erected in the stadium to honor donors.
New trustee binders
Newly-elected trustees were given binders filled with information on the district, core values, ethics code, board by-laws, education-related acronyms, resources and Brown Act requirements, collective bargaining agreements for all SUSD staff.
Fisher and the trustees will meet in workshops next month to review all the information.
A number of student field trips were approved for the upcoming school year such as museum trips, FFA Field Days, science, drill meets and ROTC competitions.