In summer 2022, WFPS became the first district in North Dakota to create a department centered on behavioral health and wellness. As WFPS grows and student enrollment increases, so does the need for a district-wide system to support our individual school systems. Combined with the rise in student behavioral challenges and mental health needs after COVID, it was more critical than ever to develop a system that can both meet the current needs of our learners and expand with our population growth.
The department of Behavioral Health and Wellness’ central mission is to provide effective, coordinated, and collaborative support for the growing behavior and mental health needs of learners and staff district wide. This department supports district-based intervention personnel and programs (Positive Behavioral Intervention Supports (PBIS), Person-Centered Planning, Trauma-Informed Care, Counselors, Social Workers, Behavior Analysts, and Coaches) as well as coordination with outside providers for additional behavioral health needs (Clinical Counseling, ABA Services, Medicaid services). These are critical prevention and intervention components of WFPS' Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS) for behavioral health, which allows us to be more responsive to the learners we support. By working together, this department and its community partners leverage best practices and provide proactive and responsive support across the district.
Our strategic plan’s flagship goal is centered around student wellness: All learners and educators are engaged in safe and compassionate learning environments that foster collaborative relationships and the physical, social, and emotional well-being of learners and educators. This belief represents increased awareness of the problems facing education in the wake of COVID and interrupted access to learning environments. These challenges have been reported by our teachers, principals, and community stakeholders and are consistent with a national trend of mental health struggles among today’s youth.
Prior to the inception of this department, behavioral health and wellness goals were maintained by coordinators and directors in multiple departments. This led to inefficiency and delays as cross-departmental approval was required to pursue new goals and oversee systems. Instead, a central vision in West Fargo now supports the development of an Interconnected Systems Framework (ISF), a process by which school-based mental health services can be integrated with positive behavioral supports to form a cohesive continuum with an emphasis on collaboration with building and district educators. The central aim of the department is to build this framework, described as follows:
For the last few decades researchers, practitioners, administrators, and families have faced a system described as “broken” when investigating or seeking services for children with mental health needs. Services have been described as fragmented, operating in silos, and narrow in focus…School is the ideal environment for implementing universal interventions aimed at promoting protective factors associated with resilience and positive emotional development (Barrett et al., 2017).
By aligning these positions under the umbrella of a new department, WFPS demonstrated understanding of the importance of intentional systems to support our learners and made the shift towards a more strategic and global approach to learner and educator wellness. Within the first six months, this department was awarded the School-Based Mental Health grant through the Department of Education. This grant will provide $12 million over the next five years to support 21 additional positions in WFPS, including counselors, social workers, school psychologists, therapists, and interventionists.
Degrees and Certifications:
Director of Behavioral Health & Wellness