San Luis Obispo County school districts and Cuesta College recently celebrated the success of many talented educators and support staff at the Fall Employee of the Year Gala. Central Coast schools employ a well-trained, dedicated and inspiring educational workforce. With all of the challenges our educational organizations face, opportunity and promise still abound in our local schools. Celebrations such as our “Employees of the Year,” serve as brief moments to acknowledge how valuable our employees are, and how they impact generations of students. We invite you to view these celebrations at the San Luis Obispo County Office of Education YouTube site or the two COE-TV channels (Charter 2 & 19) that provide educational public access programming.

Almost all of us have experienced first-hand the transformative power of effective school employees. Over my 30+ years serving in the field, I have encountered many exceptional teaching and non-teaching school employees. These support staff members and educators possess a passion for their service and demonstrate genuine care for the students in their charge. Dedicated professionals inspire us to explore ideas, think deeply, accept the challenge, and embrace rigor. Hollywood films portray some of our colleagues such as Anne Sullivan, Jaime Escalante, and Erin Gruwell on a grand scale of the big screen. However, thousands of our support staff and faculty are truly unsung heroes who faithfully serve on a daily basis. I encourage everyone reading this article to take time and thank those who serve the 35,000 students enrolled in our schools throughout San Luis Obispo County.

One type of service school employees throughout San Luis Obispo County have adopted is a Multi-Level System of Support Model that addresses academic, social/emotional, behavioral, and mental health wellness needs. This system of support begins with Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) which provides instruction, intervention, and supports from grades K-12. These Multi-Level Systems of Support extend to include Alcohol and Other Drug Addiction (AODA) supports, interventions and services for students “at-risk” of not graduating, and special education instruction support and services. The San Luis Obispo County Office of Education began to study the mental/behavioral health needs of our schools and larger community five years ago and as a result, has leveraged existing student services committees to consider these needs and make recommendations to our districts.

Linda Pierce, Director of Student Services for the Lucia Mar Unified School District, indicates that her district is committed to addressing the needs of students that extend beyond traditional service levels. “Social-emotional issues that become barriers to academic success have caused counseling referrals to increase by at least 50% over the past few years. We are seeing a large increase in the number of students experiencing anxiety. Lucia Mar is taking a wraparound approach to meet the increasing needs of our students and their families. Beyond the traditional counseling services we are also having our counselors push into classrooms and assist the schools with their PBIS implementation.”

In the past few years, Lucia Mar has added services to address the increased social-emotional needs of their students. Each site receives a minimum of two days a week of counseling services, with the elementary sites receiving three days a week. Several schools have also used site funds to add additional days of counseling. Student advocates have been added to the two high schools. These advocates coordinate services and work with outside agencies to bring in additional counseling. They assist both the student and their family to receive the resources they need. They focus on removing barriers that interfere with academic success. Trauma-informed care training is provided to staff to help identify and provide strategies to help students dealing with adverse childhood experiences (ACES). Nurses, counselors, transportation staff, principals, after school staff, secretaries, and instructional assistants are also being provided with the training.

DJ Pittenger, Assistant Superintendent, San Luis Obispo County Office of Education, who has served in local schools and observed first hand the power of our employees assisting students, states, “The implementation of Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) has made a marked improvement in all of our programs. Several program reviews such as the Western Association of Schools and College (WASC), the Review of the Court and Community Schools, the Board of State and Community Corrections (BCSS), the Inspection of the Juvenile Hall, and the individual student data collected have noted the positive steps taken. The implementation of our programs in the Community School and the Juvenile Hall has received recognition at the state level.” Chief Deputy Marguerite Harris, Superintendent of the Juvenile Hall, reports that, “Since the implementation of PBIS in the facility we have experienced improved rapport between staff and the youth.”