District Advisory Council working on identifying strengths/challenges at Eastern Regional

Administrators at the second DAC meeting spoke about the development of better services for students dealing with anxiety in the district as well as additional ways to improve the school

The District Advisory Council for Eastern Regional High School met on Tuesday, Dec. 11, providing an opportunity for representatives comprised of parents, staff, students, administrators and more to discuss the current state and future of the district.

Diana Schiraldi, business administrator and board secretary, announced the solar project on the roof of Eastern Regional is complete, with final inspections from building and electrical inspectors having been complete Friday, Dec. 7. Now, paperwork is being filed to allow the solar panels to start generating electricity.

Susan Roth, director of special services, said Eastern Regional administration is continuing to explore ways to assist students struggling with anxiety and stress in the district.

“As you may know, the suicide rate for [people] 14–25 has greatly increased, even in the last two years,” Roth said. “In addition, we’re seeing a large amount of students in our school buildings with the diagnosis of anxiety.”

Roth said a committee, composed of school psychologists, school social workers, as well as administrators, is looking at ways for students to better deal with anxiety and get help in the community.

“A lot of their issues, although not necessarily school-based, come into the school and negatively impact their day and their ability to reach their capacity,” she said.

As a way to better explore how Eastern Regional and the surrounding community can make available better services to provide those struggling with anxiety with a way to deal with it, the committee has visited a Wellness Center in Ocean City.

The center was created in response to three suicides in one calendar year. Roth said she and administrators are exploring what is and isn’t working in other communities to find out how to better help students at Eastern, and that many issues are labeled as “clinical issues,” that currently aren’t able to be addressed by even the “best school psychologist or best counselor.”

Principal Robert Tull says the committee has also visited a program in Willingboro called the Making Visions Possible program, which address specific concerns students might have. He says his hope is that Eastern will have options and services in place to catch initial concerns by students to “get ahead of the game early.”

He said due to the school’s lack of knowledge or ability to deal with problems on such an advanced level, that may even prompt an outside source to come in and assist students.

“We don’t have the clinical background, you know,” Tull said. “But it’s something that really has to be addressed, that we can somehow or another have a mechanism to really help students how to manage that anxiety.”

In the future, he said he would like to see the school have a dedicated space for a school-based program to learn how to deal with anxiety.

“Stress is going to be a part of life, but if we can equip them to learn how to deal with it, it helps them out along the line,” Tull said.

Lastly, the largest part of the meeting was to continue to develop a five-year plan for Eastern Regional High School. The plan will be developed over two years, using voices from the students, parents, community, staff and administration to identify challenges and strengths.

Those on the council broke into seven groups to brainstorm and create dialogue while writing down what can be made better and what is working right for Eastern, with the next meeting identifying those common threads, which can help develop goals.

“The reasons we’re going over two years is because we’re, first, going to reform our goal-setting process,” Cloutier said. “There were some concerns raised last year that our goals need to be constructed differently; if they’re multi-year goals, they need to be broken down so there’s specific accountable targets from year-to-year.”

Additionally, Cloutier made sure to point out high achievement is not the only, or even the most important, factor in identifying top schools.

“It’s not just achievement — its participation,” Cloutier said. “You might have the best SAT scores, but are all your students participating? That’s become a much more important measurement, especially from the state perspective.”