Giving Compass’ Take:
• Ray Bendici explains how Superintendent Tiffany Anderson transformed the way the Jennings School District supports students in foster care, boosting academic achievement.
• How can other districts learn from the Jennings School District? What location-specific factors need to be taken into account in other districts?
When Tiffany Anderson took over as superintendent of Jennings School District near St. Louis in 2012, she faced high poverty and low academic achievement. As part of the turnaround effort, she focused on building supports for students from low socioeconomic backgrounds, particularly those in foster care who struggle with social-emotional trauma and frequent changes in residence.
With assistance from community partners, Anderson renovated a dilapidated, district-owned house and turned it into a permanent group home for students in foster care.
Students in foster care face huge challenges. According to the National Working Group on Foster Care and Education, only about 60 percent graduate high school by age 19; they miss an average of five weeks of school annually; and most have faced trauma. Many also require special education services.
Anderson found many of the same foster care challenges two years ago when she took over in Topeka, a 32-school district with approximately 300 students in foster care.
She first organized three-person mental health intervention teams that are deployed across the district. Each team consists of a school liaison (a district employee who is a licensed clinical social worker), a mental health agency clinician, and a care coordinator who assists with family outreach.
The liaison—the bridge between the district and social services—reviews student intervention plans, tracks grades and coordinates mental health care.
A representative from every school also begins visiting foster homes during the first week of school, and new teachers tour the community to become familiar with areas that have a high concentration of students in foster care.
In the past two years, Topeka’s students in foster care have shown improvements in attendance, in standardized assessments, and in math and English grades at the elementary, middle and high school levels.
Read the full article about foster care students by Ray Bendici at District Administration.
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