Student Well-Being

2 District Leaders Transformed School Mental Health Services. They Share How They Did It

By Libby Stanford — May 23, 2023 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Schools have the power to transform student mental health at a time when youth mental illness is at crisis levels.

But they often lack the resources to staff and fund mental health programs, forcing school leaders to either get creative or let students go without therapy, counseling, and social work services.

Andria Amador and Nate Thompson are school leaders who took the creative route to ensure students get the help they need. Amador, the senior director of behavioral health services at the Boston school district, spent the past decade developing and cultivating partnerships with city government officials, university programs, and hospitals to get more school psychologists and mental health professionals into schools.

As director of social, emotional, and behavior services in Littleton, Colorado, Thompson has helped his district leverage a partnership with the Littleton Public Schools Foundation to create a mental health resource program, which established a network of vetted therapists to provide therapy for free to students.

Amador and Thompson sat down with Education Week during the 2023 Leadership Symposium on May 11 to discuss how district leaders can ensure mental health services are meeting students’ needs. The three-day symposium in Washington, D.C., brought together teachers and school leaders from across the country to talk about innovative ways to address pressing issues in education.

Amador and Thompson highlighted three key ways districts can improve mental health: establish universal mental health screening, use school psychologists for their expertise, and leverage community partnerships to expand resources.

The goal is to make school mental health services move past special education evaluations to reach all students who might be struggling, Amador said.

“The journey first started with us changing how we did our work: We had to do self-reflection. We had to do training and skills assessment,” Amador said. “Then we said, ‘OK, if we know how to do more, how do we change the system so everything doesn’t become a special ed evaluation?’”

The work is especially important as school leaders grapple with an escalating youth mental health crisis exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and social media. On May 23, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy issued an advisory calling the effects of social media on youth mental health an “urgent public health issue.”

“Mental health and social-emotional wellness is a critical part of any community, and the school is a part of the community,” Thompson said. “What we’ve realized is we can’t do this alone.”

More From Education Week's Leadership Symposium

On May 10-12, 2023, Education Week brought educators and experts together for three days of empowering strategies, networking, and inspiration.
Below is a selection of sessions from the symposium that are available on-demand. Access the entire event here.
Featured Speaker: A Leader’s Agenda: Cultivating Joy, Resilience, and Learning at School
Featured Speaker: ChatGPT, A.I., and How Schools Should Be Thinking About Digital Learning
Panel Discussion: Successful Responses to the Student Mental Health Crisis
Panel Discussion: Getting New Teachers Off to a Strong Start
Leadership Interview: Best Practices for Supporting Students in Gifted and Special Education
Leadership Interview: How to Build a Bench of Diverse Educator Talent

Events

Jobs Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Reading & Literacy Webinar
Science of Reading: Emphasis on Language Comprehension
Dive into language comprehension through a breakdown of the Science of Reading with an interactive demonstration.
Content provided by Be GLAD
English-Language Learners Webinar English Learners and the Science of Reading: What Works in the Classroom
ELs & emergent bilinguals deserve the best reading instruction! The Reading League & NCEL join forces on best practices. Learn more in our webinar with both organizations.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Student Well-Being Parents Worried About Their Kids' Mental Health See the Fix in New Schooling Options
Parents who say they are considering a change to their children's education identify mental health as a driving factor, a new report shows.
5 min read
Student walking down the stairs at her school.
iStock / Getty Images Plus
Student Well-Being Explainer More Students Are Getting Diabetes. Here's What That Means for the Classroom
More than a half million people under 20 could have the chronic health disorder by 2060, and they'll need support from schools.
8 min read
Conceptual image in blues: female student with diabetes wears glucose monitoring patch
E+/Getty
Student Well-Being Opinion One Thing Teachers Can Do to Signal High Expectations
There are constructive ways for teachers to communicate they believe in a student, a research scientist weighs in.
Camilla Mutoni Griffiths
1 min read
Images shows a stylized artistic landscape with soothing colors.
Getty
Student Well-Being Students With Health Conditions Protected Under Federal Law, Education Department Stresses
Asthma, diabetes, allergies, and gastroesophageal reflux disease may trigger student protections under civil rights law.
4 min read
Close up of a medical chart in an unrecognizable female doctor's hands as she listens to an unrecognizable young adult woman sitting on nurse's table.
E+