Red Oak schools to join special school-based intervention program

The Red Oak School Board has agreed to join a special school-based intervention program.

At the regular school board meeting Feb. 15, the board met with Steve McPhillips, representing the Green Hills Area Education Agency and program director for the school based intervention program, as well as Curtis Hamstra, a representative from the 4th Judicial District of Iowa.
Under discussion was participation in the Department of Human Services/Fourth Judicial District's School Based Intervention program.

McPhillips said the program was a collaborative effort between the Green Hills AEA, the juvenile court office, and local participating school districts.

McPhillips said he was contacted by superintendent Ron Lorenz to get information about the program, and initially, due to the deadline being passed, the district wouldn't be eligible to participate until the 2023-24 school year. However, McPhillips said they found a workaround.

"Curtis Hamstra is the chief court officer for the fourth Judicial District, and he said he wanted to make it happen for Red Oak this year, and Mr. Lorenz and I have been communicating ever since, McPhillips said.

According to McPhillips, the program works with at-risk youth, which he said could apply to any student in a district.

"I want the students to be successful and future ready. How we do that is by putting in a school-based interventionist who promotes regular attendance and reducing truancy. We can also work with academics and support systems and hold students accountable, McPhillips advised. "We work with behaviors, social and emotional learning, home visits, parent meetings, one on one meetings with students, and locate resources and training for the students. Ultimately, I use the term intrusive support. We've got to do drop out prevention and sometimes do things that are uncomfortable to improve accountability."

McPhillips added it would fall to Lorenz and the school administrators to identify the needs for a school based interventionist that was particular to the school. Currently, McPhillips oversaw 25 interventionists that served 15 districts, including Hamburg, Essex, South Page, Fremont Mills, and East Mills, and was getting good reviews.

Lorenz said he had a lot of experience with a similar program in central Iowa, and was initially disappointed when he came to Red Oak that the resource wasn't available. Lorenz later found out that the school based intervention program was a similar resource, just named differently.

"In my time in central Iowa, I found this position works very closely with school administrators, school counselors, and others to identify kids that for, whatever reason, are not being successful in school, and provide them a lot of different supports. My only question is how we will customize the needs for our district," said Lorenz.

McPhillips explained that the position would be placed on Teach Iowa, and the district would select the interventionist best suited for the district and then the district would provide direction to the interventionist. The interventionist would be directly supervised by McPhillips, but would also get direction from the district administration.

Hamstra praised McPhillips for his efforts in how he overseas all of the interventionists in each district.

"It is so unique to each district, and it allows us to move the needle a little bit, and when we go home, we can know it's at least one kid who's life we've made a difference in," stated Hamstra.

Lorenz said he reached out in an effort for the district to address attendance and truancy issues, and do a better job with behavior referrals, as well as general wellness. McPhillips said the program had a lot more leeway, such as approaching parents directly in the case of truancy situations, that the district didn't have the same leverage to do. Also, they will do intervention on all grade levels, not just higher levels.

Cost of the interventionist for the district on an annual basis for the school year was less than $40,000. The bill could be paid before the ESSER window closed.

Hamstra said the juvenile court officer for Red Oak was excited about having the program as an option, as it helped divert as many kids from juvenile court as possible. McPhillips said if the board approved the program, they could have an interventionist in the district by mid-March.

"It's an opportunity, and it's a year-to-year contract, so if it doesn't work, you're not locked into it. We've had a lot of successes, but we can't win them all," advised McPhillips.

Lorenz said he had seen first hand the benefits of this type of program, and since the program was affiliated with the juvenile court system, they had more leverage than the district.

"When a child is habitually truant, they go to the house and knock on the door and tell the parents they need to find a way to get the kids to school before the juvenile court got involved. In our case, they may neglect the warning. With this program, they don't get that option. There's some teeth there," Lorenz advised. "In my previous experience vaping was specifically mentioned. In the previous districts, the interventionist can write tickets, we don't need to call the police. They have authority beyond what we do,and I think we're at a place where we need some help. That's not a failure, as there are other districts in the area using this program. It's not a question of why we're doing this, it's why haven't we already?"

The board was in agreement to participate with the plan. The board unanimously approved participating in the Department of Human Services/Fourth Judicial District's School Based Intervention program for the remainder of the current year, and for the 2023-24 school year.

Green Hills AEA representative Steve McPhillips shares details of the school based intervention program with the Red Oak board. (Nick Johansen/The Red Oak Express)

The Red Oak Express

2012 Commerce Drive
P.O. Box 377
Red Oak, IA 51566
Phone: 712-623-2566 Fax: 712-623-2568

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