Austin (KXAN) — As part of KXAN’s Save Our Students initiative, KXAN wanted to hear directly from the leaders of Austin-area school districts about what solutions their districts are using to better support students’ mental health and safety.
We invited the superintendents of Lake Travis ISD, Hays CISD, Austin ISD, Georgetown ISD, Pflugerville ISD, Round Rock ISD, and Leander ISD to join in on our conversations. These school leaders were interviewed by KXAN’s morning anchors live followed by an in-depth interview with KXAN Digital Reporter Alyssa Goard.
Each of these districts emphasized that supporting student mental health is a priority for them, and many explained that it’s become an increasing priority in recent years (Round Rock ISD said that mental health was a top priority for its 2019-20 budget).
But how these districts are going about offering support looks different in each community.
You can find links to each out our reports with these school districts below
Austin ISD, for example, has been seeing success with the 45 mental health centers they offer across the district where students, staff and community members can see licensed, clinical therapists.
Lake Travis ISD just hired a licensed, clinical social worker to respond in crisis situations and help counselors across the district.
Hays CISD is striving to get every single student at their schools involved with activities outside of school.
Georgetown ISD is training their staff to build positive, appropriate relationships with students to help gain students’ trust.
Pflugerville ISD is beginning training this fall for a program in partnership with Johns Hopkins University to raise awareness about depression.
Round Rock ISD will be launching its first two mental health centers this fall, staffed by licensed mental health professionals.
Many of these districts said they are also prioritizing conversations about school safety, explaining that in light of recent school shootings and attacks on schools, their districts are more on-alert. Several of these districts are strengthening their partnerships with local law enforcement.
Lake Travis ISD hired a retired Austin Police officer last year to be a school safety officer and advise the district on things like emergency drills and security. Georgetown ISD has been working to secure entryways, add security cameras, and fund radio communications which allow first responders to directly communicate with school leaders during an emergency.
Many districts are improving tools for community members to send in tips or reports.
Pflugerville ISD explained that their Anonymous Alerts App brings in lots of tips, both about threats against area schools and about personal/mental health crises students may be experiencing. PFISD noted that they saw an uptick in reports about threats against their campuses after the Santa Fe High School shooting in Texas; the district suspects that more people are fearful or on edge after traumatic events like that.
The school leaders KXAN spoke with had all been working in education for decades, all of them explained that mental health and about school safety are part of regular conversations in their districts now in ways that they weren’t in decades prior. Sometimes the topics overlap, sometimes they don’t.
Hays CISD’s superintendent explained that the end goal of his district’s efforts to improve student mental and emotional wellness is to avoid having any “invisible kids” or “ghost kids” who slip through the cracks.
“We don’t want any ghost kids,” Hays CISD Superintendent Eric Wright said. “Because we feel like those are the kids that are more apt to harm themselves or others.”