During a regular meeting on Oct. 22, the District 200 school board voted unanimously to create a new Trauma Informed School Interventionist position.
Funds for the new position — which accompany a salary somewhere between $76,000 and $100,000, with approximately $15,000 for benefits — will be offset by the board’s elimination earlier this year of the School Resource Officer program, district officials said.
The person who fills the new role will be responsible for helping to ensure that staffers at Oak Park and River Forest High School are equipped to effectively deal with the effects of trauma on students in the school and to help implement systemic practices and procedures at the high school that deal with trauma in ways that are healthy and equitable, according to D200 officials.
“Each year, we have seen an increase in the number of students who have experienced high levels of trauma from a variety of sources in their personal lives that might have become exacerbated in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and have made functioning in daily life challenging and often impossible,” officials explained in an Oct. 22 statement drafted by D200 Assoc. Supt. Greg Johnson, Director of Student Services Lynda Parker and Lead Dean Janel Bishop.
“Traumatic experiences are manifested for some of our students in behaviors such as defiance, physical or verbal aggression, or inability to focus in the academic environment, to name just a few,” they stated. “These students need attention and assistance in a way that is not the same for students who have not experienced such disruption in their formative years. As a result, we desire to be more intentional about how we increase our institutional capacity to meaningfully support such students.”
The D200 school board approved the elimination of the Student Resource Officer (SRO) position in July. But the board had been critical of a previous presentation by administrators that outlined the duties and functions of the Trauma Informed School Interventionist that would replace the SRO role.
Board consensus was that the administration did not give enough detail about how the new administrator’s effectiveness will be measured and how that person will be held accountable. Board members were also concerned that too much attention on one administrator’s responsibility for addressing trauma might overshadow the importance of improving how the high school addresses trauma systemically.
At the Oct. 22 meeting, board members said that administrators had effectively dealt with those two issues.
“Thank you so much for this,” said board member Gina Harris. “This is exactly what we asked for [earlier this year]. Seeing this scope is a lot different than what we saw before, with the job description. Actually understanding how it’s implemented makes a huge difference.”
Board member Ralph Martire said hiring a trauma interventionist “is one of the best evidence-based practices you can implement. It has really been shown to enhance student achievement over time.”
Johnson was careful to emphasize that the new administrator, despite specializing in trauma, would nonetheless not absolve other parts of the administration from addressing how the district handles trauma intervention on a systemic basis.
“We don’t want anyone to interpret that this person is individually going to bring about these outcomes,” Johnson said.
Those outcomes include improvements in attendance, grades, behavior and school culture among OPRF’s most traumatized and marginalized students.
“These are outcomes we know we care about as a school, and this person will be part of the system that helps produce them,” Johnson said.
But even as board members voiced unanimous praise for the new position, some members said the district needs to be vigilant about making sure the new hire is worth the cost of adding yet another administrator to the payroll.
“Since I’ve been on the board, we’ve added 48 positions, which is over 10 percent of the staff,” said board member Tom Cofsky, who was elected to the board in 2013. “The student population has increased by 1 or 2 percent during that time.”
Board member Jackie Moore, who was also elected in 2013, echoed Cofsky’s guarded praise of the new hire, adding that while she supports the position, the district needs to ensure that another administrator will have the effect on the student experience that the administration intends.
Board member Matt Baron recalled the conversation that preceded the board voting to remove the SRO program after nearly 20 years in the school. Administrators at the time told board members that they did not have comprehensive data related to the officers’ job performance, including a full reporting of disciplinary encounters between the officers and students.
“We had the SRO program for 18 years and didn’t do a good job of evaluating it,” Baron said, adding that he hopes the district makes sure the trauma interventionist position is “reassessed very closely all of the way.”