FARMINGTON — After gaining the input of school, district, and community stakeholders at a symposium that filled Davis School District’s auditorium in early July, the district is moving ahead with plans to roll out social and emotional learning (SEL) supports in pilot schools during the 2019–2020 school year.

“The purpose (of the symposium) was to have stakeholders come to the table to help give input on creating a district vision for (SEL),” said Kathleen Chronister, the district’s new director of social and emotional learning. After gaining a general knowledge base in SEL, “(attendees) then split into different stakeholder teams, and (started) to identify those pieces of (SEL) that are most important that they felt needed to be in the district vision.”

One of the group’s primary recommendations was to begin with adult SEL before moving on to instruct students in these skills.

This order of priority is reflected in the district’s vision statement for SEL, which was developed based on discussions during first day of the symposium: “Employees and students acquire and effectively apply personal and social attitudes, behaviors and skills necessary to lead happy and fulfilling lives.”

SEL is “the process through which children and adults understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions,” according to the website of the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), a nonprofit and leader in the field dedicated to making evidence-based SEL an integral part of primary and secondary education.

In addition to improving children’s well-being, SEL improves students’ academic success, providing an average return of $11 for every $1 that is invested in evidence-based SEL interventions, according to research done at the Center for Benefit-Cost Studies in Education at Columbia University. This research projects monetary benefits by considering increases in student academic performance and future earnings, as well as reductions in juvenile crime, among other factors.

By December, a district steering committee and school-level committees will be convened that will determine how to meet the SEL needs of each school. Schools will determine whether they will convene a new team dedicated to SEL, or if an existing team will integrate SEL into their other work.

The district will also develop a needs assessment for adults. Chronister said she hopes that every adult working in the district’s pilot schools will provide feedback.

The set of pilot schools were identified before the symposium. They will be Northridge High School and the junior high and elementary schools that feed into the high school, though not every school has chosen to participate, Chronister said.

The schools were chosen because many came forward expressing interest and because many had already started working on SEL, which provided a good foundation for the district to build on, Chronister said.

Davis School District has adopted the competencies in CASEL’s definition of SEL above, but the district does not have plans to adopt a curriculum district-wide, especially since available curricula focuses on students, and the district is currently focusing on adults.

Schools will have access to a toolkit the district will develop, and teachers across the district who are interested in expanding their SEL skills will have access to online and in-person professional development throughout the 2019–2020 school year.

The district is also receiving support and guidance from the Tennessee Department of Education’s Office of Student Support. The office’s executive director, Pat Conner, was the keynote speaker at the symposium. Brad Christensen, director of student services for Davis School District, told the school board at its meeting on July 16 that the district hopes to send staff to visit Tennessee schools to see their work in action.

For schools who wish to use curriculum to support students this year, elementary schools will have the option to use the free elementary curriculum provided by Sanford Harmony. Chronister said that Sanford Harmony is working on secondary curriculum, but it is not yet available.

There isn’t a district budget to pay for curriculum, Chronister said, but school community councils could elect to use school land trust money to purchase materials if they find it necessary.

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