A mental health milestone: four local districts team up to create shared coordinator position

Members of the committee that helped to create a shared Student Success and Family Services Director position. From left to right, AGWSR Superintendent Marty Jimmerson and Success Coach Jessica Carter, D-NH High School Principal Irvin Laube, A-P Counselor Gary Flanigan, State Representative Pat Grassley, A-P High School Nurse Elizabeth Waller, A-P Superintendent Jon Thompson, D-NH Counselor Trisha Ames, and Grundy Center Counselor Carrie Dieken. 

Modern politicians aren’t particularly known for their ability to work across the aisle or pass legislation that pleases everyone—or anyone, for that matter. With the help of Speaker Linda Upmeyer and leaders from AGWSR, Aplington-Parkersburg, Dike-New Hartford and Grundy Center, however, State Representative Pat Grassley may just achieve the rare feat thanks to an operational sharing modification freeing up funds for the districts to create a brand new Director of Student Success and Family Services position as part of an ongoing effort to better coordinate mental health care.


And for Grassley, who farms near New Hartford, married an AGWSR graduate and has children attending D-NH, it’s personal as well as political. In his estimation, it’s also a prime example of the way government is supposed to function.


“There’s been a lot of talk about student mental health. Not only was it pretty important to my district, but I think it was pretty timely to the entire (legislature),” he said. “It’s so much easier when you have school districts trying to be proactive on this. This is truly local school districts taking the initiatives and us giving them the tools they need.”


A-P Superintendent Jon Thompson (along with school nurse Elizabeth Waller and guidance counselor Gary Flanigan), AGWSR Superintendent Marty Jimmerson and success coach Jessica Carter, D-NH High School Principal Irv Laube and guidance counselor Trisha Ames, and Grundy Center Counselor Carrie Dieken have all played a crucial role in turning an idea into a practical reality and subsequently creating one of the first jobs of its kind shared between multiple rural Iowa school districts.


“There’s a huge breakdown between exterior (care) providing, parents and school. I’ll have hospitals call, and they want information on a student. But they won’t explain why they have our student,” Dieken said. “There’s just that big breakdown that we’re hoping this person can really help facilitate and tighten those boundaries.”


The hiring committee has already received 11 applications, and a director could be announced by early June. The successful candidate is expected to have a background in social work and serve as a liaison between mental health professionals, teachers, support staff and administrators, and he or she may work outside of normal hours if home visits become necessary.


“Our high school counselors aren’t psychiatrists, and they’ll be the first to tell you that,” Thompson said. “There’s a level of expertise that (Flanigan) has, but then there’s another level that the psychiatrists have… (The director’s) focus should be more on the kid and the family than the school and the kid.” 


Read the full story in this week's Grundy Register. Subscribe by calling (319) 824-6958 or clicking here.