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Morgan gets 1.5 percent raise
Also, school board hears report on student mental health study
Frank Morgan Web
KCSD Superintendent Dr. Frank Morgan - photo by C-I file photo

Kershaw County School District (KCSD) Superintendent Dr. Frank Morgan received a 1.5 percent salary increase Tuesday night with a unanimous vote (minus Trustee Kim DuRant, who was absent) from the Kershaw County Board of School Trustees. The vote followed an executive session during which the board discussed its periodic evaluation of Morgan’s performance as superintendent. The vote did not include extending Morgan’s contract, which is already good through June 30, 2019.

The 1.5 percent bump is back-dated to the beginning of the district’s fiscal year on July 1, when all other district employees received the same raise. With the increase, Morgan goes from earning a base salary of $160,809 to $163,809. His current total compensation, including a $9,000 annual annuity and $12,480 annual travel allowance, comes to $184,701.

Morgan, 64, came to Kershaw County after being hired in April 2007; he began serving as superintendent that July.

Not PLAY-ing around

Also during Tuesday’s meeting, trustees received a presentation on the findings of a study called the Project to Learn About Youth - Mental Health (PLAY-MH), a joint project of the University of South Carolina (USC), U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The USC/CDC project covers four states: Colorado, Florida, Ohio and South Carolina. The project kicked off in South Carolina during the 2014-15 school year and included Kershaw County.

KCSD Executive Director for K-12 Instruction Dr. Alisa Taylor said Morgan asked the district to come up with a five-year plan to improve alternative education opportunities for those students who need such services.

“That plan was driven by a request from our principals for help with behavioral supports in their classrooms,” Taylor said, referring to some statistics from the 2011-12 school year. “That led us to think we needed to strengthen our support for children with the challenges they were having trouble in school.”

Taylor said that was about the time Dr. Kate Flory, a professor in the USC College of Arts and Sciences’ psychology department, came to the district with a study “she thought we were perfect for” through USC and the CDC.

“We thought it would help us find ways to help our children,” Taylor said, before turning the presentation to those with the research data.

Melissa L. Danielson, who works for the CDC’s division of Human Development and Disability within the agency’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities in Atlanta, said mental health is just as important as physical health. Danielson served as the CDC’s project manager for the study.

“There’s a strong relationship between having good mental health and having high academic achievement, being able to reach developmental and emotional milestones, help students learn appropriate social skills and figure out ways to cope with problems, when they come up, either with parents, teachers or peers,” Danielson said. “We (CDC and USC) had a previous study where we tracked children that had ADHD over time to see how their symptoms and outcomes changed.”

Danielson said USC was funded for the first iteration of the PLAY-MH study in 2013.

“As part of the project, we wanted to take one site and have them replicate the project so we could see if the estimates of the numbers of children meeting the criteria for these conditions -- did that change substantially over time, because that would help influence the research we would do in the future. When we decided to choose which site to fund for the second time, the working relationship between (the district) and USC was such a good one and it was such a success in the first round, it seemed like a natural to fund them for the second time,” Danielson said.

She then turned things over to Flory and Dr. E. Rebekah Siceloff, a research associate in the same department. Flory said the study’s goals were to estimate the number of K-12 students with either behavioral or emotional concerns or both, describe current and past mental health treatment and examine the misuse of any medication used to treat those mental health concerns.

“I did want to emphasize that of the four sites across the United States, Kershaw County School District was the only site chosen to do it the second time. That is a testament to the excellent support we had from you all, Dr. Morgan, from all members of the school district from the staff and other members of the superintendent’s office, the principals, teachers, families -- everyone we talked to were super supportive,” Flora said.

Round 1 started in Fall 2014 with a mental health screener, continued in Spring 2015 when in-depth interviews with students and their parents or guardians began, and ended in December 2015 with the completion of those in-depth interviews. Round 2 started in Fall 2015 and ended about a month ago.

Siceloff said district teachers participated in the mental health screener by answering 25 questions online about their students’ behavior. She said teachers from all grades received $4 for each completed questionnaire, done on their own time. Parents were notified ahead of time and given the opportunity to have their children opt-out of the study. Teachers reported the data with students only identified by a number, not by name.

“The USC team took that information and looked at how many of the behaviors the teachers said they saw … and students who met a particular point were categorized as ‘at risk’ or ‘not at risk,’” Siceloff said. “So, all this really told us is that a particular child could have a mental health concern or was less likely to have a mental health concern. So, these are not diagnostic in any way.”

Round 1 dealt with 276 students whose screeners were completed by their teachers. Round 2 saw that number more than double to 571. According to Siceloff, these numbers represented about a 70 percent response rate at the elementary and middle school levels and just under a 60 percent response rate among the district’s three high schools.

According to the study, about 1 in 5, or 20 percent of, students screened by their teachers in Fall 2015 were categorized as being “at risk” of having either type of mental health concern. Of those, nearly 70 percent were boys. Siceloff said the district-wide 20 percent figure is in line with national studies.

Among the Fall 2014 students, nearly 21 percent were elementary school students, just more than 17 percent were middle school students and nearly 13 percent were high school students. Similar percentages showed up among the Fall 2015 screener students: 24.5 percent were elementary school students, nearly 15 percent from middle schools and 13.5 percent were high schoolers.

The study also found that these percentages held up across all grades for students with free/reduced lunch status. About 21 percent of students received free/reduced lunches in Fall 2014 versus about 12 percent for students who paid full price. In 2015, the numbers increased slightly to about 24.5 percent free/reduced lunch versus about 13 percent for full pay.

Siceloff also talked about the in-depth interviews. She said the students and their parents or guardians would meet with clinicians at the district’s Continuous Learning Center. Each family received $50 during Round 1 and $75 during Round 2. During these sessions, the clinician would complete diagnostic assessments of mental health disorders and have the students and their parent/guardian fill out additional questionnaires.

Siceloff said for those students in crisis, the clinicians conducting the interviews made referrals to school psychologists, counselors or other professionals. She said information about the students was kept strictly confidential, except in cases of neglect or harm.

“We have a lot of work to do with those,” Siceloff said of the in-depth interview data. “What we’re going to do next is determine what percentage of children and adolescents did meet criteria for a behavioral or emotional disorder and we’re also going to identify what types of things might be related to children and adolescents’ mental health.”

She said those could include the home environment, parenting features, school features and even sleep patterns.

Flory said the study is already reaping benefits.

“We have a lot of really great data that we can provide your district in terms of supporting other grant applications you might want to submit in the future for asking for additional mental health support services in the district,” Flory said. “We’ve already started to identify funding opportunities (so) we might be able to continue partnering with the district to bring in additional services.”

Flory also said the study provided more than 50 USC students with a “great” training opportunity outside the classroom and into the community.

“Finally, I was really pleased that, with the project, we were able to work with the district from the very beginning and figure out how we could do something meaningful for the families in the district,” she said. “What we really wanted to do … was make sure we provided the families who participated with Stage 2 (in-depth interviews) with a meaningful experience and so what we did was provide each family with a free evaluation report with a summary of our findings.”

Taylor ended the presentation by noting the difference in various types of disciplinary actions in 2012 versus 2017 in the district. According to Taylor:

• Discipline referrals dropped from 10,730 in 2012 to 6,004 in 2017 -- a difference of 4,726, or a 44 percent reduction.

• Suspensions dropped from 4,389 in 2012 to 1,623 in 2017 -- a difference of 2,766, or a 63 percent decrease.

• While there were 553 expulsion hearings in 2012, there were only 269 in 2017 -- a 294, or 53 percent drop.

• From those hearings, there were 54 actual expulsions in 2012, but only 32 in 2017 -- that’s 22 fewer or a nearly 41 percent reduction.

• Retentions (where students were held back a grade) stood at 392 in 2012; there were 218 in 2017 -- a difference of 184, or a 47 percent decrease.

Taylor said that these numbers being, generally, halved is a result of the district’s five-year plan.

“We refocused our school counseling program on academic and school-wide initiatives to make changes,” she said. “We restructured all our alternative school options, so CLC is now a therapeutic assessment/counseling center rather than just a consequences and punishment center as it had been before. We have virtual programs at each of our high schools, so suspensions are much lower because students get to stay there and continue their course work. We have early entrance into adult ed(ucation), so a child who is overaged and undercredited can get on with getting on with getting a GED.”

Taylor said the district also hired five rehabilitative behavioral health services counselors and a clinical psychologist who can assess and diagnose students, and offer 45-minute counseling sessions every week for students who need them.

(Coming Tuesday: An “unequal” school year calendar proposal.)