This is the second of four monthly columns I’m dedicating to discussing four new initiatives in the Portland Public Schools’ 2019-2020 budget that embody our Portland Promise goals: Equity, Whole Student, Achievement and People. This month, my focus is on our initiative to create a robust behavioral health continuum. This work is connected to our Whole Student, Achievement and Equity goals.

We want students to have a well-rounded education – which is why we have the Whole Student goal in the Portland Promise, our district’s strategic plan. We are committed to not only teaching academics, but also to helping students develop socially and emotionally so they can attain the skills, habits and mindset for success in life.

When it comes to academics, most of us are familiar with the idea of a “continuum” of student learning. At one end are students who need very individualized support, while at the other end are very advanced students who seek opportunities to accelerate their learning.

The same is true about social-emotional development. We recognize that some students need higher levels of support, but we also strive to ensure healthy social-emotional development for all our students. That is why we are building a system of continuous support around behavioral health.

Social and emotional health goes hand in hand with academic learning. Teachers are very aware that one or two students with significant disruptive behavior can take an inordinate amount of time away from classroom instruction. Having clear expectations and making sure that everyone understands them is an important part of a high performing environment in all walks of life.

The foundational component of the continuum of our behavioral health is the development of a school culture and climate that reinforces positive behavioral interventions and supports (PBIS). This ensures that our teachers have the support they need to have students access learning opportunities.

Chris Reiger, our director of clinical and behavioral support services, who joined our team last year, leads our social-emotional development work. We’ve added social workers and behavioral health professionals to help support this work. But building the capacity of all of our staff is the key to making this happen.

A significant part of our new budget initiative was the development of a behavioral health continuum in our schools. This included reorganizing our former Bayside Learning Community to create more opportunities to support our students’ social-emotional needs.

We’ve added programming for students with emotional and behavioral disabilities at Rowe and East End elementary schools and have strengthened existing programs at the middle and high school levels. We still have a day treatment program – formerly Bayside Learning Community, now called the Breathe Day Treatment program. For students in kindergarten through eighth grade, the program now is located at Lyman Moore Middle School and it’s at Portland High School for students in grades 9-12. These changes enhance our behavioral health continuum by allowing students to participate in school-based programming with non-disabled peers as appropriate, regardless of their service location.

I’ll close by recognizing National Hispanic Heritage Month, Sept. 15 to Oct. 15. Close to 560 of our students – about 8.2 percent of our total population – are Hispanic and I am, too. Generations of Hispanic Americans have enhanced and enriched our nation and society. I want our students to know about our heritage and be proud.

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