Superior Schools to change approach to student mental health

The revised policy focuses on suicide prevention, intervention and postvention.

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Officials in the Superior School District are looking to take a more proactive approach to addressing student mental health in their schools.

A revised student suicide prevention, intervention and postvention policy had its first reading at the school board's committee of the whole meeting Monday, Dec. 6. The changes were the result of work by the district’s suicide prevention task force, which reviewed model policies across the nation.

“I think every year as an administrator I’ve dealt with the death of a student by suicide,” District Administrator Amy Starzecki said. “This is, to me, the most important work we should be doing as a school district. This is literally life and death.”

Social worker Jane Larson worked with youth for years before coming to Superior High School and saw the effect of suicides on families and the community.

“I felt like we were putting out fires, we were reactive and not proactive in what we need to be to make sure that everybody is as safe and secure as they can be,” Larson said.


That includes helping staff understand warning signs, what to look for, how to ask for help and who to ask for help. Keeping the protocol consistent across schools is also key, Larson said, as is providing support to those affected by suicide.

“So included in this approach is how are we supporting the well being, not just of our students but our entire staff. Everybody at school is affected one way or another by that,” Larson said.

The policy offers an overview and would drive changes in the administrative guidelines , what Starzecki called the “meat” of the changes. The team will continue to meet and work on logistics such as identifying who would be in support positions.

Board member Mike Meyer said he would like to see what it would take to staff this outreach in an effective way.

“Not to diminish the work that our staff is doing now, but we are in a mental health crisis. Therapists in our community are full, are past capacity,” Meyer said.

“We do not have enough mental health workers in our schools to address the social emotional behavior needs of our students in all our buildings, and that’s the reality,” Starzecki said.

The board approved moving the policy forward to the Dec. 13 meeting for a second reading.

In other business

The academic calendar for the 2022-2023 school year was also among the items discussed at Monday's meeting. The start date for students would be Sept. 1, 2022, and the last day of school would be June 9, 2023, under the proposed calendar.


“We surveyed staff and it was overwhelming, two-thirds of our staff prefer to have longer breaks next year and getting out a little bit later, which is opposite of how they usually are about it, so I think that says something about the school year,” Starzecki said

The board is also poised to approve adding new courses at Superior High School, beginning in the 2022-2023 school year. They include advanced placement music theory, a one credit course; and half-credit courses in software essentials, fashion and retail management, drama as literature, creative nonfiction and literature by women.

“We are really working hard to make sure that we’re considering our vision statement around ‘all means all’ and thinking about the equity work that we’re all focused on. We are also thinking more deeply than ever before about, ‘Do the courses at our high school, both our existing courses and any new courses that we bring forward, help us achieve the goal of increasing our graduation rate?’” said Crystal Hintzman, director of curriculum, instruction and assessment. “So are we offering the courses at our high school that all of our students can see themselves within and are engaged in wanting to take?”

A number of current English and language arts elective courses could also be used to cover a required credit under the proposal. They include the news writing and reporting, creative writing, introduction to academic writing and from graphic novel to film classes.

Set to start in the 2023-2024 academic year would be a required health and wellness class.

“This is everything we’ve been looking at with equity over the years, looking at our students with the equity lens,” said board Vice President Christina Kintop.

Past students seeking scholarships were more restricted in what they courses could take and still qualify, she said. The changes would allow them to take classes that interest them, which could lead to a higher graduation rate.

“I love that all these options are available,” Kintop said. “I thank these teachers for looking at what is best for our students.”

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