MTSS & Behavioral Health

Spotlight on Student Health and Wellness is celebrated as part of Mental Health Awareness Month

By Dr. Rebecca Malmo, Executive Director of Student and Family Support Services

Behavioral Health Department

The month of May is Mental Health Awareness Month, so it seems only fitting to share some of the progressive steps we are taking to support mental wellness at the Madera Unified School District. Along with school districts across the country, Madera Unified has experienced an increase in student presentation of mental health impairments. This has led to the prioritization of the social emotional well-being of all students through a variety of initiatives. The most significant of these is the commitment to a Behavioral Health Department, staffed by four highly qualified mental health professionals to provide school-based services to students.

The following staff members comprise the Behavioral Health Department, Supervisor Brooke Durrell, LCSW, Behavioral Analyst, Dr. Kathy Wandler, BCBA-D., Linda Negrete, LCSW, and Judith Silva, LMFT; the latter two team members are both certified Behavioral Health Clinicians.

Since joining us in late November, Ms. Durrell has tackled policy, referrals, compliance and scheduling, as well as representing MUSD on various Behavioral Health-related committees, such as the Suicide Prevention Coalition of Madera County. She also triages all the Behavioral Referrals submitted by school sites when they observe concerning symptoms demonstrated by students, and assigning them to Ms. Negrete, Ms. Silva or Dr. Wandler as appropriate. She also attends SSTs, and other meetings, as appropriate. She also monitors all 5150 risk and threat assessments, and monitors Safety Plans for both types of 5150. She has also created valuable partnerships with our local Behavioral Health providers, such as Madera County Behavioral Health and Camarena, to expand the services available to our students. A digital Behavioral Health Referral form is used to request all Behavioral Health services.

Dr. Wandler provides intervention, support, and guidance, largely at elementary sites. We are often asked what teachers can expect when Dr. Wandler’s support is requested. The answer depends on the needs of the student and of the teacher. In some cases she evaluates student behavior and makes recommendations for interventions. In some cases, she models alternative teacher behavior, or de-escalates a student, each decision is based on the individual student and teacher needs and behavior.

Ms. Negrete and Ms. Silva serve the Behavioral Health needs of our students, as clinicians, providing both individual students, and, in some cases family therapy. Their services are typically limited to about 12 weeks / sessions; impairments exceeding 12 weeks of work are better addressed by higher levels of care.

Another crucial and important district development initiated the Suicide Prevention Coalition of Madera County (SPCMC.) The SPCMC is comprised of representatives of several Madera community based organizations including Madera Unified School District, Madera County Behavioral Health, Madera County Public Health Department, Camarena, Madera Community Hospital, Valley Children’s Hospital, Madera Police Department, Kingsview NAMI, and Madera Juvenile Probation. The SPCMS meets monthly and is committed to providing the best possible mental health services to the Madera community.

Madera Unified has also formed a district Suicide Prevention Committee, with K-12 site representation, focused upon planning mental health related activities, such as those associated with Suicide Prevention Awareness week for students in grades 7-12, and celebration of May as Mental Health Awareness month. Also related to our Suicide Prevention Awareness efforts, recent legislation has mandated that suicide crisis text and phone line numbers be printed on the back of all student ID cards for grades 7-12.

Community Services and Parent Resource Centers (CS & PRC) have also been included as part of our Behavioral Health focus. Thanks to our partnership with Madera County Behavioral Health, our K-8 parents are now receiving a monthly Parenting Tips newsletter highlighting strategies to support mental wellness. As a result of grant funding, MUSD will be also be offering The Parent Project ( parent courses in the fall. These ten week courses will be available in English and Spanish and are designed to help parents with children who are defiant or disruptive. We will share more information in a future issue of the We Believe newspaper about to participate in this dynamic opportunity.

In partnership with the Youth Leadership Institute and Madera County Behavioral Health community education staff, the CS & PRC department will be hosting the annual Youth Leadership Conference at Madera High School on May 11, 2019. A focus of the event targeting 8th grade students, will feature information related to student mental wellness.

Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS)

MTSS is a systematic, continuous improvement framework in which data-based problem solving and decision making are practiced across all levels of the educational system to support students in social emotional, behavioral and academic areas. Madera Unified launched MTSS at three pilot schools this year, Howard, Lincoln and Washington. We will add an additional 8 schools in the fall, followed by 10 in 2020, and the final 9 schools in 2021.

MTSS focuses on aligning the entire system of initiatives, supports, and resources, systematically addressing support for ALL students, including gifted and high achieving.

MTSS enables a paradigm shift for providing support and setting higher expectations for ALL students through intentional design of integrated services and supports, rather than through the selection of individual components of intensive interventions. Integrated intervention supports provide that systemic changes are sustainable over time. MTSS is not intended for consideration in special education placement decisions. MTSS focuses on ALL students, in ALL education settings. Madera Unified has 3 staff members dedicated specifically to MTSS implementation; they are MTSS Specialists, KaBao Vang, Sam Phillips and Dr. Corrie Nishikawa, who are providing guidance and technical support to our schools. Though not directly part of the Behavioral Health Department, they are “related” in that they have largely focused on developing a variety of behavior-related tools such as, the Behavior Intervention Matrix, a “Toolkit” of Behavioral Intervention resources, and developing all the components of our new universal behavior screening tool, currently in use at our 3 pilot locations. The universal behavior screening tool, the Student Risk Screening Scale (SRSS) is used as part of MTSS to help teachers identify students who need additional supports to be successful in school. The MTSS Specialists train staff on the use of the tool, review the resulting data with site teams, and make recommendations for research-based responses to interventions, as needed, with entry and exit criteria and progress monitoring tools.

The two most important social emotional and behavioral components of Tier 1, the universal tier for all students, are Positive Behavior Intervention Supports (PBIS) and Social Emotional Learning (SEL). As its name suggests, PBIS is a positive behavior system that intentionally teaches students about behavior expectations through positive means. In addition, toward our goal of building internal capacity, staff members have now been certified as PBIS Assessors. Second Step curriculum is one of the SEL products used in Madera Unified. We received new Second Step materials for grades K-5 last fall. We will receive new, digital Second Step curriculum next fall.

Many of the initiatives mentioned above have been funded through the Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grant, which focused upon Student Health and Wellness and was funded by the federal government.


5150: Refers to an individual who is deemed to be a threat to themselves or others

CS: Community Services

MTSS: Multi-Tiered Systems of Support

PBIS: Positive Behavior Intervention Supports

PRC: Parent Resource Center

SEL: Social Emotional Learning

SPCMC: Suicide Prevention Coalition of Madera county

SST: Student Study Team

SRSS: Student Risk Screening Scale


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