Mental health services to expand in District 191

Four more mental health specialists will work in School District 191 next year under a new contract with Twin Cities-based Headway Emotional Health Services.

The district will have 13 specialists in 2013-14 under a $275,000 contract approved June 20 by the Burnsville-Eagan-Savage School Board.

Two are being added districtwide. Two are being added between Burnsville Alternative High School and Sky Oaks Elementary, which are funding them with compensatory aid tied to concentrations of low-income students.

The district will spend $100,000 more under the new contract than it did in the recently completed school year. The alternative high school is paying $80,000 of the total cost, and Sky Oaks is paying $20,000.

Next year will be the third year the district has provided mental health services. Specialist ranks have grown each year.

“I haven’t talked to anyone in the buildings that isn’t just thrilled with this,” Board Chair Sandy Sweep said.

Though other districts have mental health collaborations, District 191 is said to be unique in extending services across all its schools.

The district has been on the “leading edge” in Minnesota and the nation, Board Member Dan Luth said, adding that it’s trying to erase “decades” of stigma around mental-health problems.

“The mental health of our students is just as important as their regular physical health,” Luth said.

The specialists spend much of their time with students outside the school day, under agreements with their families, said Lisa Rider, district business services director.

The services are needed in “almost every building, if not every building,” Luth said.

Headway’s specialists have master’s degrees in a mental health discipline or are in their second year of master’s studies.

Students are referred for services mostly by teachers, Ann Meehan, a Headway mental health counselor, told the School Board in January.

At the elementary level, most of what she deals with are student outbursts, whether caused by depression, anxiety or a behavior disorder, she said.