Gladstone school program focuses on behavioral problems

GLADSTONE — Two Gladstone elementary schools have a one-of-a-kind behavioral interventionist program in the area. Jones Elementary and Cameron Elementary kicked off the new program at the beginning of the school year.

Gladstone Schools Superintendent Jay Kulbertis explained the program is a new way for the schools to improve the lives of students with behavioral issues by having new “behavioral interventionist” positions at the schools. These individuals are tasked with educating those students on their social-emotional well-being, providing them with the social-emotional skill set needed so less behavioral issues occur, incorporating parents in the individual behavioral plans, and teaching other teachers in the school on how to look out for these students.

Kulbertis said the idea of this program came about a couple years ago when there seemed to be more and more behavioral issues in the schools and staff was struggling on how to best address it.

“Last year we talked about hiring someone to help us out,” he said. “Someone who was kind of a specialist in dealing with students’ behaviors. We talked about it several times. We talked about it so often we determined we didn’t know enough about it, so then we started to try and get more information about what that person would look like, what would their job be, how that would work in our schools. Over the course of last school year we got a pretty good idea of what we needed.”

It was then determined to create the best environment for these students, it would take the right person with the skills and attitude to make this idea successful, Kulbertis said.

Kristina Hansen, the Jones Elementary principal, said the job description called for a person with “super-hero” qualities.

“They would be dealing with the most difficult students or the highest level of need all day long and maybe seeing minimal to no success — that’s kind of the mentality we were looking at at that point,” she said.

Kulbertis explained it was Peggy Austin, a teacher at Cameron Elementary, that stepped forward to become the first behavioral interventionist. He said Austin was planning on retiring soon and decided to use her skill set in this new position before she retired.

It was determined before the program even began Austin would need a partner, so Stacey Reath was then hired as a behavioral interventionist for Cameron. Michele Schaeffer became the behavioral interventionist for Jones. Kulbertis said Austin retired at the end of January.

The program is more than just the new positions but also how the schools educates all students on social-emotional well-being and the skills that go along with it.

Hansen said it was important for the schools to not just have a behavioral “firefighter” going around and putting out these major behavioral incidents, but to look at systems that were in place at the schools.

“We provided a lot of education to our students … about social-emotional well-being and social-emotional skills, and then the behavioral specialists and interventionists can address those needs in the kids that might need a little more specific instruction for those different emotions,” she said.

The effectiveness of the program is determined by tracking behavioral data on students.

Hansen explained the schools have been tracking this type of data for a long time, but now it really helps to show how effective the program is in changing the lives of the students. She said the data is collected by looking at the minor behavior incidents and the major behavior incidents that occur in the schools.

Hansen said they have been pleasantly surprised with the level of improvement the students have been showing in just this short amount of time.

“It’s not perfect, but we have been seeing a lot of successes,” she said.

With the current success, Kulbertis said he is very appreciative of the support the school board has shown in getting the program started.

“It took a certain amount of trust and financial backing to go down this road. For them to understand the importance of what we were trying to do and then give us their trust along with the responsibility for putting the program together to address it — it means a lot to us,” he said.

The idea of expanding the program is out there, but it is far more complicated than just including more Gladstone schools.

“It’s already going well enough that we would like to expand it,” Kulbertis said. “It’s figuring out how to fund an expansion of it that will be the next challenge. There has been some money allocated at the state level for what they’re calling ‘mental health personnel.’ It’s not really clear how that money is going to be distributed or what exactly its going to be allowed to be used for or if it’s going anywhere except to ISDs. So there are too many question marks around that.”


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