Student-centered mental and behavioral health management at Judson Independent School District
- Live Oak, TX
- PreK-12 Enrollment
- Certified: 1,613
- Other Staff: 1,657
- Frontline School Health Management (Mental and Behavioral Health Management)
- Frontline SIS
Spanning the largest square mile radius of any school district in San Antonio, Judson ISD serves students from all socioeconomic levels and backgrounds. Culturally diverse, the community includes bilingual and English language learners from around the world. Because families face so many challenges, teachers and staff know that providing children with the right support means changing lives. They strive to help students become everything they can be educationally, emotionally, and socially.
Budgets are tight in school districts across the country. Each time the ax drops, district leaders have to decide what expenses they will cut. Too often, school counselors are among the first to go. Not because they are not valued, but more often because data doesn’t always support the need. That doesn’t mean that counselors and social workers aren’t helping students, but simply that they may not be documenting their interactions in ways the district can easily measure.
Administrators at Judson ISD are different. The Executive Director of Student and Family Support Services, Monica Garcia, views school counselors as critical to student success. To demonstrate their importance, she needed a way to collect data showing exactly how they support students.
Before they started tracking their time, the average middle school in Judson had three counselors for about 1400 students. If you do the math, that’s well over the recommended 250–1 ratio. When school counselors started regularly documenting student interactions using Frontline Mental and Behavioral Health Management, they recorded almost 2,500 visits each year. That initial data justified hiring additional counselors. It also laid the foundation for a district-wide tool that identifies staffing needs for the department and ultimately led to hiring district-based social workers and counselors for high-risk students.
Monica Garcia believes that school health management is the wave of the future. Data showing the number of times counselors across the district met with students painted a clear picture of the need for support. The district’s strong social-emotional learning guidance program provides a toolkit for counselors working with children. Tracking the number and content of the interactions delivers evidence that it is making a difference in students’ lives.
“Our elementary counselors actually see every kid in their school twice a month for guidance beyond the face-to-face, one-on-one, or small group interactions they have. They weren’t able to really document that in an easy, manageable way until Frontline put the hug on the program.”
The hug is the way the system makes it easy for counselors to document their work. Each time she meets with the same class, her narrative about topics discussed that day automatically posts to individual records for every student. Even when students attend remotely and log into a guidance lesson, it becomes part of their documented history. Attaching lesson documents is a snap. It turns out that making a system easy to use is the key to getting people to use it.
Data drives decisions
At Judson ISD, the numbers tell the story. Maria Olson, a middle school guidance counselor, trains other counselors to use Frontline School Health Management to document student interactions. With a couple of clicks of her mouse, she can tell you exactly how many students the counselors at each of the 32 schools in the district have seen so far this year. Before they were trained on using the system, the average was between 150-200 interactions. Since the implementation, that number increased to over 1600 – a whopping 800% jump.
Maria credits Frontline with that exponential growth. On the heels of the pandemic, Frontline made some major enhancements to the system, both visually and functionally The new system was much more user-friendly and included quality video and in-person training along with extra support for the elementary counselors. Even though full implementation happened mid-year, counselors agreed to enter their documentation dating back to the beginning of the school year because they were eager to have student data so readily available.
The Frontline system has proven to serve as another set of eyes on remote learners working at home. Counselors can record and save Zoom calls if they have concerns about the health or safety of a student. The clips serve as documentation for the district social worker who may need to make a home visit. Whether it’s to report an issue to Child Protective Services, sign the student up for a food program if the family needs assistance, pay a utility bill if the lights are off, or even deal with a family health emergency, the social worker is there to help.
From a broader perspective, Frontline School Health Management isn’t just for monitoring mental and behavioral health. During the pandemic, district users found it valuable for contact tracing. The hope is that eventually, school nurses will have access to the system for documenting general health interactions with students.
“Follow-up is a huge thing for us and super easy to get lost in the shuffle.”
Follow-up is an important task for all school counselors, but one that is easily overlooked. In a situation where a student is in crisis and is referred to see a psychiatrist for treatment, they may stay home for a time. What happens when they return to school? A busy counselor might not remember to check on that student. In the past, counselors had to use a creative coding system on Outlook calendar reminders to ensure privacy.
With Frontline, the counselor can set an alert to remind them when the child is expected back, then meet with the student to offer support. Having recently implemented the Frontline Student Information System, SIS, Judson counselors get alerts on their calendars and the student gets a message reminding them of the appointment too.
A help button that really works
As the resident expert, any time a counselor needs help with Frontline, Maria is a phone call away. Rather than wait if she is not immediately available, counselors are likely to click on the little question mark icon, watch a quick video, and figure out the solution on their own. Maria remembers when that help button was not that helpful. Users had to click and search using precisely the right keywords to find answers, making it as complicated as using the program. Now the help is dynamic, step by step, and includes screenshots with clear descriptions.
“We want people to be independent users. But if the help is cumbersome and difficult, that kind of throws a wet blanket over their enthusiasm. The improved help feature is part of that big hug that Frontline put on the system.”
Top tier support
Happy with Frontline, Maria has high expectations. Whether she submits a support ticket or asks for a program enhancement, the response is quick and helpful. When COVID upended daily routines, stress levels increased among staff. Frontline came up with a confidential non-student designation for the occasional times a school counselor had to talk a teacher off the ledge. Counselors can document those staff visits. While confidential, that documentation also helps school principals sense the pulse of the school and give support to students and staff.
A positive partnership
With Director Monica Garcia at the helm and School Counselor Maria in the driver’s seat, Judson is a model school district when it comes to monitoring and addressing mental health for students and staff. Frontline turned out to be a good fit for them. The service Frontline Mental and Behavioral Health provides to the district is perfectly aligned with their goal of helping every student succeed.