Seal of Dane County County of Dane
County Executive's Office

SchoolSuperintendents, County Exec Announce The Start-up of School-Based Mental Health Teams

October 16, 2014
Melanie Conklin, Office of the County Executive, 608-267-8823, or Rachel Strauch-Nelson, Madison Metropolitan School District, 608-663-1903
County Executive

This fall, new teams of mental health professionals are helping students and families in a creative program based right in area schools

MADISON, SUN PRAIRIE, VERONA:  School-based mental health teams started up with the school year this fall in three Dane County districts: Sun Prairie, Verona and Madison. The innovative program, a collaboration between these three school districts and Dane County, recently contracted with Catholic Charities to coordinate the rapid-response mental health team program, which it named “Building Bridges.”


Mental health has become a strong focus in Dane County, and across the country. This new program grew out of a visit Dane County Executive Joe Parisi had with Dane County’s Joining Forces for Families staff, when he asked what were the greatest needs frontline workers in challenged areas were seeing. Surveying school administrators, they had the same reaction: address mental health needs in schools and provide proactive support systems that are best for students.


“County staff, school officials and law enforcement have all identified supporting immediate mental health needs of students as a top priority and I am excited to have these teams up and running now in schools in Sun Prairie, Madison and Verona,” said Joe Parisi, Dane County Executive. “This partnership will provide trained, experienced staff to assist the schools and our families and help all students succeed.”


Today, Parisi was joined at Mendota Elementary School in the Madison Metropolitan School District, by its Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham. The pilot program in Madison is based in the East High School attendance area. All three districts chose independently to focus on younger students in grades 4K through 8thgrade.


“In our school district, we are working hard to stay incredibly focused on the day to day work of teaching and learning. As we do that work, this is exactly the type of coordinated partnership that we need to help support our students and families,” Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham said. “By partnering together, we can provide proactive support to our students who need it, so they can be successful in school. I’d like to thank the county executive for his leadership in making this partnership a reality.”


Tim Culver, Superintendent of the Sun Prairie Area School District, spoke about the experience in his schools this fall: “Our district has truly appreciated the efforts of the county to serve children in our community.  We especially appreciated that the planning effort to develop this in a very organic, community-based process.  Our student service leaders feel we have been able to collaboratively build what Sun Prairie students need.” He reported that  Catholic Charities workers have been active in Sun Prairie getting the program up and running and the  intake process has been started for seven students and two professional development opportunities have been scheduled in Sun Prairie schools.

“It is very exciting to see mental health needs being met proactively and we sincerely thank Dane County for this support to better help children learn.  Futures truly depend on all of us working together,” Culver added.

Catholic Charities, Madison has been involved in area schools for more than a decade and welcomed this new challenge of a program focused on mental health needs of students and rapid-response intervention.


“There is growing recognition that many children have unmet mental health needs which greatly impacts their ability to succeed in school.  The Building Bridges program provides schools with trained mental health professionals to work with students, their families and school staff so children can ultimately succeed in school”, said Jackson Fonder, president and CEO of Catholic Charities, Madison.


The pilot program’s third location is in Verona schools. "Unfortunately, there is a negative social stigma associated with receiving assistance with mental health concerns,” said Dean Gorrell, Verona Area School superintendent. “Building Bridges is a program that seeks to break down these barriers to receiving help so that children and their families can lead productive lives and flourish."


The program will be tracking outcomes, parent satisfaction and impact on behavioral referrals, attendance and school attachment using a 90-day intervention model.


“Ensuring success in school requires a comprehensive approach that includes supporting kids with mental health needs and their families,” added Parisi. “I am grateful to the staff and the school officials who worked closely with us to get this new program up and running this school year.”


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