by ALEXANDRA RETTER
A group that analyzed Winona Area Public Schools’ (WAPS) student support services recommended that the district hire cultural liaisons to advocate for students and families of color. Additionally, the group recommended that the district develop support groups or clubs for Black students, Latinx students and Asian American students in high school. Some of the group’s other recommendations focused on the district increasing mental health services and making more connections with families. However, while WAPS builds next year’s budget, questions linger about how and whether the district will fund those recommendations.
The recommendations from the student support services study group arrived at the School Board table on Thursday. “We’ve got some great suggestions, and we’re going to continue moving forward,” WAPS Superintendent Annette Freiheit said. “This is not the end of our work.”
Hiring a cultural liaison was one of citizens’ main demands during an anti-racism protest last summer. School Board members have had several contentious split votes on the cultural liaison, as well.
The group’s recommendation to establish support groups for students of color came as WAPS tries to make its schools more welcoming to underrepresented students and after a current group for students of color — Our Voices — decided to meet outside the district.
The district plans to consider the recommendations as it develops the budget for next year, Freiheit said, and determine which recommendations it could act on in the near future. WAPS may remove some staff members’ current responsibilities while adding new ones to bring the recommendations to fruition, she said.
In regard to mental health services, the group recommended that the district start to use a mental health screening tool and improve the process for referring students for mental health services. The group also recommended that WAPS create student support groups that cover matters including suicide prevention, depression, grief, and divorce.
The group also recommended that the district improve the way it assists students and families as students move from early childhood programs to kindergarten, elementary school to middle school, middle school to high school and high school to post-secondary life. The group recommended that WAPS improve how it helps students and families when students in the special-education or English-learner programs leave those programs, as well.
The group also recommended that the district communicate and meet with families in flexible ways that work with their schedules. Additionally, the group recommended that WAPS search for ways to help families access transportation so they can go to the district’s after-school and evening programs.
Addressing inclusivity and equity, the group recommended that WAPS implement multicultural curriculum with lessons about people of different cultures and backgrounds.
The group also recommended that the district support students as they learn about social interactions and emotions through content such as SEL (social-emotional learning) curriculum.
In addition to the group’s recommendations, Freiheit said WAPS’ participation in a three-year study of how welcoming its schools are for underrepresented students — as well as a multi-year study and implementation of a system of support with several tiers — would help the district better serve students.
The group consisted of representatives from WAPS and the Winona community. It studied the district’s student support services, such as counseling and social work. School Board members unanimously approved the student support services study last June.
District leaders and School Board members will make decisions on whether and how to fund the proposed cultural liaisons and other recommendations as they create the 2021-2022 budget this spring and approve it by July.