FLEMINGTON, NJ - Superintendent Kari McGann highlighted ways in which the Flemington-Raritan Regional School District has recently gone about tackling mental health issues.

The mental health of its students and families is an area McGann immediately sought to address upon taking over as superintendent in 2018, she said. She added that it is a topic she regularly discusses with the superintendents from Readington Township School District (K-8) and Hunterdon Central Regional High School, as it is a “crisis” in school districts across the country.

According to minutes from the Dec. 16 meeting, McGann noted her intentions to build an in-house “state of the art behavior and clinical program.”

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“We’ve done some good work. I’m very proud of the work that our teams have been doing to identify mental health, and really put some interventions in place,” McGann said during a mid-year report to the board in late January.

She addressed different forms of intervention and new practices in her report under its objectives for “special services” within the district’s strategic plan. In connection with that, the board approved the hiring of Dr. Danielle Hamblin as its director of special services on Sept. 17, and she officially began her new role Nov. 18.

McGann said Hamblin is leading the development of a new crisis intervention team, and added after the meeting that the team will include some combination of psychologists, guidance counselors, teachers and administrators.

The district already has a Response to Intervention Program in place, one way in which the district “supports students very early on.”

“We have a Response to Intervention Program that works seamlessly,” McGann said. “When we talk with building principals about how they are meeting kids’ needs, those meetings start very early, so I’ll be in an elementary school right before the students come at about 8 a.m. and the building principals are already meeting with their staff talking about students that need support.”

Other highlights from McGann’s report included wellness rooms in place at Robert Hunter and Copper Hill elementary schools. Yoga is also taking place in some classrooms, and students, along with teachers, are leaving time for mental mind breaks.

Effective School Solutions (ESS), a district partner providing in-house mental health programming, recently took effect Jan. 6 at Robert Hunter, according to a district presentation. The program, in effect from Jan. 6 until June 30, costs $98,700, and intends to help the district avoid the typical annual costs of some out-of-district placements, which can be more than $100,000 per student.

McGann said the district plans to integrate this ESS partnership into another school next year.

After the meeting, McGann noted Effective School Solutions (ESS) is one way in which the district is adjusting to Robert Hunter, a school, which she says, needs additional support because more students at this school have behavioral disabilities.

Robert Hunter has recorded an “above average” amount of suspensions compared to other district schools, she said. The late January board meeting agenda noted five separate cases leading to suspension, all at Robert Hunter.

Four of those infractions were related to aggressive behavior, while the other infraction related to an assault on a staff member.

Robert Hunter tallied 12 cases of similar infractions in October, and three cases in November.

“Particularly at the elementary grades, the types of student challenges and associated behaviors have become more severe, in many cases exceeding the capabilities of the school’s ability to effectively manage them,” according to the December presentation, in providing background on the district’s current situation.

Asked if students are demonstrating explosive behavior at Robert Hunter causing damage to their surroundings, McGann said she would not define their behavior as "explosive," but did label the behaviors as concerning for the students and families that have significant social, emotional and academic needs.