Gov. Brad Little met with a roundtable of a dozen educators and education stakeholders Saturday afternoon to discuss the biggest ideas coming down the pipeline of the state legislature.
Representatives from Idaho Falls, Bonneville, Madison, Shelley and Jefferson school districts attended the meeting at College of Eastern Idaho to share their thoughts. The discussion went over four of the major pieces from the governor’s education task force that was commissioned last year — teacher pay increases, early childhood literacy, social-emotional health for students and career technical education.
The discussion about childhood literacy largely focused on early intervention, whether through kindergarten or individualized education programs. All the districts in attendance had some level of all-day kindergarten available at the moment but faced problems with the classroom space and cost needed to create a universal program.
“I think it’s pretty hard to build out all-day kindergarten just with the state funding and not Title 1 because otherwise you start putting too much money into there and not enough into first and second grade,” Idaho Falls Superintendent George Boland said.
Several districts were frank about the rising number of students in their classrooms that had some level of social or emotional health concern. Riverview Elementary School principal Ben Lemons said in some of his classrooms, one in four students were checked on daily for mental health concerns. Madison teacher Mary Robinson shared recent statistics about Central Alternative High School, where 86% of students had a major trauma in the last three years and nearly 40% had some diagnosed mental illness.
“And when one of our students has a mental health need, we don’t have anyone besides a teacher and principal with some training to take care of those needs,” Robinson said.
Other districts said that while the issue of social-emotional health is not new for schools, social media may have exacerbated the problem in recent years. Little tied the issues of literacy and student emotional health together, saying he wished he could authorize more money for intervention with both of those initiatives than on the Idaho Department of Corrections.
“Show me a lifer or someone on death row and show me a child that needs that help. I think we are better off spending the money to help early, to try and diagnose the child at the right time,” Little said.
The non-school stakeholders at the meeting were there to discuss the needs and concerns of career-technical education in the region. State Sen. Dave Lent (R- Idaho Falls), Melaleuca spokeswoman Katie Hart and Idaho National Laboratory’ deputy lab director Dr. Marianne Walck all spoke about the rising need for workers in the area with less than a bachelor’s degree and the potential connections between schools and companies on the issue.
Brennen is the main education reporter for the Post Register. Contact him with news tips at 208-542-6711.
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