From Addressing Barriers to Learning,
Vol. 3 (1), Winter 1998

Lessons Learned

Dallas Public Schools Community Partnerships

In 1995, the Dallas Public Schools formed partnerships with the Community Oriented Primary Care Division of Parkland Health and Hospital System and the Child and Adolescent Services Division of the Dallas Mental Health-Mental Retardation Agency. This led to establishment of nine school-based/linked Youth and Family Centers. The school district used federal (ESEA) Title XI funds for coordination of services and administration and paid for infrastructure costs; the community agencies staffed the services. Because of the partnership, a wide set of services is offered to students and their families, including medical care, intensive mental health counseling, general counseling, emergency and crisis intervention, after school activities, adult classes, and more. The centers offer psychiatric evaluation 1 to 2 days/nights a week. During the first year of operation, more than 3,400 students used the services, logging a total of 3,686 physical health visits, 2,677 mental health visits, and 1,485 support service visits.

With specific respect to mental health, 670 students were treated for behavior (50%), emotional (29%), family related (14%), health related (6%), and academic (3%) problems. The mental health treatment team at a center includes a child and adolescent psychiatrist, other licensed mental health professionals, and other school staff.

Therapeutic interventions are provided by school and agency staff (licensed psychologists, social workers, counselors, play therapists, marriage and family counselors). Agency staff provide 24 hour back-up for crisis intervention (including an emergency hotline and mobile crisis teams) and hospitalization. Family sessions often are combined with individual therapy; other help is added as necessary -- including school interventions (in 20% of the cases) and medication (in 11% of the cases). Staff provide social skills training, crisis intervention, teacher consultation/training to address school-wide problems, such as violence and stress/burnout.

As reported by Bush and Wilson in the October 1997 issue of Educational Leadership, the promising results of the partnership's first year are as follows: "More than half the students with behavior problems noticeably improved from fall to spring. Similarly,.nearly half of those referred with attendance and academic problems showed noticeable progress by the spring." (The jury is still out on the impact centers have on achievement test scores.)

Virtually every principal of a participating school indicated that the centers provided quality services, were valuable to their students, and should be established to serve all schools. Similarly, parents reported they were pleased with the services and with their children's progress. Moreover, in contrast to the high rate of "no shows" at many community facilities, it is reported that almost everyone shows up for appointments.

In their Educational Leadership article, Bush and Wilson outline the following lessons learned from the Dallas experience:

  • Melding the services of three large bureaucracies requires major effort and determination and considerable cross-training.
  • Because governing and operating coordinated services is demanding, teams must set aside hours for planning, creating policies, and handling details, and must strike an appropriate balance in doing all this.
  • Essential to a center's success is a strong manager who knows the community and works well in a school setting.
  • Because no one set of services works at all sites, staff must tailor services to the needs of those in a specific community.
  • The ever present problem of limited space requires creativity and flexibility (e.g., off-hour use of teachers' lounges, school offices, cafeterias, classrooms; use of community facilities offered by youth organizations and churches).
  • Policies must be developed to enable partners to share information in ways that foster essential communication and also protect essential privacy.
  • Both process and outcome evaluation data have proven essential in facilitating program planning, management, and promising results.

  • From an agency perspective, Glen Pearson (Director of Child and Adolescent Services for Dallas County Mental Health/Mental Retardation) stresses that the follow-through rate for school-based services is double that of community health centers in Dallas. "We have more people coming here than we can see. There is no comparison in terms of productivity." From the perspective of the school district, Jenni Jennings (Clinical Supervisor of the Youth and Family Centers) sums it all up: "Obviously, we are elated with the positive results."

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