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Getting Back to Real Policy Basics:
Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child

 The Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child Initiative provides another opportunity to get back to policy basics.

A fundamental societal need is to end the marginalization (and ongoing fragmentation) of efforts to transform how schools address barriers to learning and teaching and re engage disconnected students. To this end, our work emphasizes embedding all specific initiatives into a broad school improvement framework that can guide development of a unified and comprehensive system of student and learning supports. Such a framework enables using the growing interest in the "whole" as a catalyst to effectively weave together the full range of existing school-home community resources.

With respect to policy makers at all levels, the opportunity is to bring them a legislative approach that stresses enhancing equity of opportunity for all students to succeed at school and beyond (i.e., by improving how schools address barriers to learning and teaching and re engage disconnected students). And rather than calling for more funding at this time, the focus of such an approach can be on a policy shift to catalyze system changes that will result in more effective use of resources already allocated for student and learning supports. The aims are to ensure schools do not marginalize student/learning supports and to guide them in the development of a unified and comprehensive system at every school.

As our work stresses, the key catalytic shift needed is to reframe policy for improving schools as three primary, essential, and integrated components. That is, besides the continuing emphasis on improving instruction and the governance/management of schools, the fragmented and disorganized efforts to address barriers to learning and teaching and re-engage disconnected students would be unified into a fundamental school improvement component. The benefits of fully integrating the third component into school improvement policy not only includes enhancing academics, but strengthening efforts to enhance students' personal and social development and functioning.

Related key catalytic policy shifts involve:

(a) expanding the accountability framework for schools to include major indicators of personal and social development and of improvements in addressing barriers to learning and teaching (see prototype at http://smhp.psych.ucla.edu/pdfdocs/account.pdf)

(b) providing guidelines that include standards for student/learning supports practice and related quality indicators (see prototype at http://smhp.psych.ucla.edu/pdfdocs/commcore.pdf ).

If we are to get back to real basics in schools, we need to focus on establishing a fundamental policy shift that can transform schools. This is starting to happen in various districts and state education agencies across the country that are trailblazing the move to a three component framework to guide their school improvement policy and practice. See, for example, the Alabama State Dept. of Education's catalytic policy shift in its design document for a unified and comprehensive system of learning supports online at http://smhp.psych.ucla.edu/pdfdocs/aladesign.pdf
 
And for a peak at other states and districts across the country that are moving in this direction, see Where's it Happening Trailblazing and pioneering Initiatives http://smhp.psych.ucla.edu/summit2002/trailblazing.htm

By focusing on such a fundamental policy transformation, the emphasis on "whole" can become more than just one more initiative; it can be an opportunity to contribute to an essential facet of efforts to transform public education, improve public health, and enhance equity of opportunity.


Prepared by Howard Adelman and Linda Taylor
Both are Co-Directors of the School Mental Health Project and its Center for Mental Health in Schools at UCLA.


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