Round Rock, TX (KXAN) — As part of the Save Our Students project, KXAN is sitting down with superintendents from a handful of school districts in the Austin area.
These superintendents have a conversation live on the KXAN morning show followed up with an in-depth conversation on mental health and school safety with Digital Reporter Alyssa Goard.
Round Rock Independent School District
Superintendent Dr. Steve Flores
RRISD’s superintendent Steve Flores explained that over the last couple of years, better supporting mental health has become one of the district’s main focuses.
He recalled how several years ago, a student advisory board told the district they wanted to focus on mental health and suicide prevention.
“And as the superintendent, I said, ‘You know what, we can do other things, such as heart walks or other things like that,’” Flores recalled. “They said, ‘Actually what we’re seeing is that our parents and that a lot of our adults aren’t communicating well with us, and we’re sending a lot of signals where some of [our] friends have attempted suicide or have committed suicide.’“
Flores explained that he was initially hesitant about the students’ idea because it was so different from what student advisory boards had worked on in the past, but he warmed up to it once he realized this type of effort could have really significant benefits for the district.
“To the point where, it turns out that maybe this is the most positive light, the most positive project to date, so that means that where we are right now, I am thankful for our students [saying], ‘We need to be heard, we need to be listened to, because we are sending messages,’” Flores said.
New mental health clinics with licensed therapists
Flores also proudly talked about the new mental health clinics the district is will be opening at two campuses: Round Rock High School and Cedar Ridge High School. Any student in the district can receive mental health services, there, even if they do not attend either of those two campuses.
These centers will be accessible to Round Rock ISD students free-of-charge. Licensed therapists will be at these centers and travel to campuses offering therapy sessions.
A spokesperson for RRISD explained that the district is still finalizing the physical spaces where these will be housed and the details about the therapists who will be part of these centers. The district anticipates these mental health centers to open in mid-September.
The centers are overseen by RRISD’s counseling services which coordinates with professionals contracted through Bluebonnet Trails Community Services. The goal is to have school counselors work along with these licensed therapists.
In order for students to receive services at these new centers, they must get consent from their parent or guardian. The services students receive there are confidential.
The Round Rock ISD Board of Trustees voted unanimously at their June 20 board meeting to fund these therapy services.
Flores says that in due time, the district plans to offer these clinics at all five high schools.
“Our focus is to get it done right,” he said.
He explained that the district’s priority in developing the 2019-20 budget was student mental health.
Flores described these clinics as a place where “a child can say, ‘You know what? I’m just not feeling it today, there’s something going on that I need to have a conversation [about].’”
Flores wants parents who are following this conversation to know these centers can be a resource for them as they have tough conversations with their kids.
“I want you to know that you can access the mental health clinic, you can call, you can call the campus, they can direct you there, and you can actually be that person that says, ‘Hey I had a falling out and I didn’t agree with my child today and as a result, you know, can somebody check on them?’” he explained.
Other mental health resources in RRISD
RRISD has 150 counselors in the district and the district’s comprehensive high schools have between 10-12 counselors depending on how many students attend.
Some of RRISD’s counselors are certified as Licensed Professional Counselors and the district’s two teen parent coordinators are certified as licensed social workers. Currently, the district does not employ anyone who is tasked with offering therapy
“This is why the mental health clinics are so vital,” a spokesperson for the district said in an email.
The district is also trying to relieve some of the academic stress on students. RRISD high schools now offer “flex time” where students once a week can attend a class on their choice, whether that is a session on handling stress, taking a nap, or attending a club meeting. The district explained that these flex schedules began at McNeil High School a couple of years ago and have expanded.
“Students report this opportunity relieves stress and anxiety,” a district spokesperson explained.
In July of 2018, the RRISD Board of Trustees approved the permanent removal of students’ class rank from transcripts at Westwood High School. There is an exception, students who are within the top 10% of their class will see their rank on transcripts, as is required by state law. Students who don’t fall within that top 10% can request a “percentile certificate” which will be sent by the high school campus to colleges or universities.
This came after Westwood High School ran a year-long pilot program studying college admission, scholarships, and student experience. All this effort was sparked by concerns from parents that the pursuit of class rank was negatively impacting their children’s time in high school.
KXAN has interviewed Pflugerville ISD, Georgetown ISD, Lake Travis ISD, Hays CISD , and Austin ISD about solutions they are trying out as well. We will also be interviewing the superintendents from Leander ISD as part of our continuing coverage of the solutions districts are turning to when it comes to addressing mental health and wellness.