FARMINGTON – Davis School District has created a new district-level administrative position to lead social and emotional learning (SEL) across the district, one of only a few similar positions in school districts across the state. The district has selected long-time Davis educator Kathleen Chronister to fill the role.
“It’s exciting to be able to design and develop something from the ground up that is very impactful,” said Chronister, who has already begun her work as the district’s director of social and emotional learning. “This (position) was an opportunity to take a wealth of experience and share that.”
Chronister comes to the new position from Davis district’s alternative high school in Kaysville, Mountain High, where she was the principal. Under her leadership, the school’s on-time graduation rate hovered around 95 percent.
She has 29 years of experience working in Davis School District, including five years as a teacher, 10 years as a curriculum specialist, and 14 years as a school administrator.
Chronister earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from Brigham Young University and a master’s degree in education and administration from Idaho State University.
She said her experience leading Mountain High prepared her for her new role.
“My background (in SEL) is a wealth of ... life experiences, particularly being in an alternative setting as principal of Mountain High, learning how to work with students who struggle and have a lot of challenges — and working with staff who also work with very challenging students,” Chronister said. “We’re working both with ... strengthening adult SEL competencies and being able to promote SEL to students.”
Social and emotional learning 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 social and emotional learning an integral part of primary and secondary education.
“We have a mental health crisis in our communities,” Chronister said in a district press release. “We all see it every day — increasing anxiety, depression and other kinds of health challenges. We need to have some resources in place.”
Chronister is leading a symposium Monday and Tuesday that will bring together community stakeholders in the Davis area to build a vision of what social and emotional learning will look like in the district.
Stakeholders include school teams, district departments, the superintendent, school board members, parents and PTA leaders, Davis Behavioral Health, the Davis Health Department, Utah State Extension in Davis County and Head Start.
The keynote speaker at the symposium will be Pat Conner, executive director for the Office of Student Support for the Tennessee Department of Education, a department dedicated to SEL. Utah does not have a comparable department at the state level, and the state has not adopted a set of standards for SEL, Chronister said.
“We really are doing that foundational support and planning,” Chronister said. “It’ll require a lot of people’s energy and time collaborating together.”
Research has also found that student’s social and emotional skills are tied to their academic success.
Chronister said the district is using CASEL’s competencies, described in the SEL definition above, and CASEL’s framework for evaluating social and emotional learning.
The district has not yet selected a curriculum to support SEL across district schools.
CASEL does not provide curriculum for social and emotional learning, but it does produce guides assessing the evidence base and features of social and emotional learning curricula produced by other organizations.
CASEL recommends that school districts convene groups of community stakeholders, like Davis district is doing with the upcoming SEL symposium, to identify shared priorities and determine which curriculum best meets the needs particular to a district.