Superior pushes for student mental health resources

Among the information district leaders are sharing with lawmakers is that there have been three suicide attempts at Superior High School this school year.
Superior’s superintendent Amy Starzecki speaks about mental health services during an interview at the Superior School District building on Tuesday, March 3. (Jed Carlson /

The Superior School District leaders are advocating for mental health resources by sharing what their students are experiencing.

On Monday, March 2, the School Board discussed a one-page handout they will be sending to legislators and policy makers. It includes details and statistics, stories meant to personalize what District Administrator Amy Starzecki calls a mental health crisis.

“We recognize mental health is probably one of the greatest issues facing our community and schools and our classrooms, and we’re as a district working with our legislators and our policy makers to really talk about what we need,” she said.

The stories highlight day-to-day realities:

  • There have been three suicide attempts on campus at Superior High School during the 2019-20 school year and more than 15 students have been transported from the school to the hospital in mental health crisis.

  • According to the 2019 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, a self-reported, confidential survey given to students every other year, 53% of Superior High School students struggle with anxiety; 21% harm themselves; 22% of SHS students reported they have seriously considered suicide; 10% have attempted it.

  • Students in crisis have injured 85 staff members in the district this year; one employee ended up in the emergency room.

Starzecki said the school district is advocating for change to better help students who are struggling.
“I don’t want people to feel alarmed that their kids aren’t safe or we’re not meeting kids’ needs. I want them to know the purpose of this was to say ‘We can do better,'" she said.


One student died by suicide in Superior last school year, and Startzecki said she doesn't want to lose any more students to suicide.

“I am committed, no more on my watch,” Starzecki said.

Superior isn’t the only school in crisis. In every district Starzecki has served as an administrator — Burnsville, Deer River, Floodwood and Duluth — she said students have completed suicide.

County-wide data from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, which includes input from students at Northwestern, Solon Springs and Superior high schools, show the issues are regional. According to the survey, 49% of Douglas County students struggle with anxiety; 33% reported experiencing depression; 20% have harmed themselves; 20% of students have considered suicide and 17% have made a suicide plan.

RELATED: Survey tracks risky behavior among Douglas County students

It's of statewide concern. On March 2 at Ashland High School, Gov. Tony Evers signed a bill requiring newly issued student IDs to include the contact information for local and national suicide prevention hotlines.

“Whether it is bullying online, traumatic events at home or in the news, or stress, we know that kids across the state are struggling both in and out of the classroom with their mental health,” Evers said.

Solutions sought

In addition to offering a snapshot of Superior’s mental health needs, the district handout proposes solutions:


  • Increase Wisconsin’s Medicaid reimbursement rates, which are 56% lower than Minnesota’s.

  • Increase state special education funding.

  • Change school social worker licensing to remove barriers for northern districts.

  • Offer sustainable funding instead of one-time grants for mental health needs.

Starzecki said a resource sheet referencing mental health issues has been distributed to Superior classrooms. Similar to posters detailing lockdown procedures, they give teachers, staff and even other students a guide for identifying and addressing a student in the midst of a mental health crisis.
RELATED: Superior introduces in-class tool to support students undergoing mental health crisis

“The likelihood that we’re going to have a lockdown — a real lockdown or active shooter — is very, very slim,” Starzecki said. “The reality is we deal with this every single day.”

She also reached out to an agency she used to work with that provides a full continuum of mental health care for students, including services like day treatment and residential treatment that are not currently offered in Superior. She was told state funding and regulations prevented them from creating a program in Wisconsin.

Superior's handout is meant to prompt discussion and change.

“This is happening in every school district. This isn’t just Superior. We just want to tell our story,” Starzecki said.

To get help

  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: (800) 273-8255

  • Douglas County Crisis Line: 715-392-8216 or 715-395-2259

  • Crisis Text Line: Text "HELLO" to 741741 to speak with a trained listener. The service is free, available 24/7 and is confidential.

Maria Lockwood covers news in Douglas County, Wisconsin, for the Superior Telegram.
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