PTS rolls out new Community Care program
Aug. 1, 2022
PHOENIX – If Kelly Soter has her way, Phoenix-Talent School District’s new Community Care program will eventually be a one-stop shop for families that would otherwise spend hours circling the customer service merry-go-round – calling hotlines, arranging meetings and scrolling through websites.
Soter envisions a day when, for PTS families caught in that dreaded spin cycle, simplicity rules the day.
“If you have a family that’s working with all these different agencies, they have all these different things that are going on,” Soter said, “and if every single one gave them a case manager or a point of contact that family has about seven different case managers. But what if we could streamline it to one?”
Soter is the district’s new Director of Equity and Community Care, a new addition to the district that comes by way of a federal initiative labeled Strengthening Mental Health in Education (SMHiE) whose goal is to address the “considerable need for a robust, community-driven, linguistically and culturally responsive behavioral health infrastructure in Oregon communities.”
The Phoenix-Talent School District was one of only four districts in Oregon to be selected for the 2 ½-year Community Care Project, with PTS being allocated $1,082,552 for the period of March 1, 2022 through Sept. 30, 2024. According to the Oregon Department of Education, PTS and the other three districts involved were chosen because they represent the “racial/ethnic, linguistic, geographic, and socio-demographic diversity of Oregon.”
According to Phoenix-Talent’s most recent at-a-glance profile, 40% of its students identify as Hispanic/Latino and 7% multiracial. Additionally, over 95% of the student body qualifies for the free and reduced lunch program, and the PTS Bilingual Immersion program ranks as second-longest running such program in the state.
Along with Soter the district hired three community care specialists to be stationed at each of the district’s three elementary schools: Rosario Medina at Talent Elementary, Katie McCormick at Orchard Hill Elementary, and Laura Millette at Phoenix Elementary.
Soter says she felt it was important to bring in community care specialists who already had local connections and experience in fields related to community care, an approach she believes has already paid dividends.
“Having community care specialists that were already in the community really gives us a leg up,” said Soter, who previously spent 10 years as an administrator in the Medford School District, including three years as the principal at McLoughlin Middle School. “Building trust and building connections and relationships – bilingual and bicultural – really helps grow us fast. And then I think, yes, we’re sort of going gangbusters and like (superintendent Brent Barry) said ‘We have three years to put this stuff into place.’ The opportunity is really exciting.”
Now that they’re in place, Soter and the three community care specialists are tasked with increasing the mental health literacy and capacity among the school communities, developing credentialed mental health professional learning for those involved, including community-based organizations, and evaluating the impact of the program on students and their families. The eventual reports issued from PTS and the other three districts that were selected – Hillsboro SD, South Lane SD, and Lake SD – will be used to determine whether the program should be expanded statewide.
Still in the early stages of implementing the program, Soter and her team have been doing everything they can to spread the word about Community Care, what it’s about, who can benefit, and how. They’ve stationed booths at community events, met with parents, and set up a Community Care referral form. The hope, Soter says, is to broadcast far and wide throughout the PTS community that help isn’t just on the way. It’s here.
“So if you need some support making a doctor’s appointment, or need somebody to help figure out who to call at Health and Human Services for something, our community care specialists are here to be your navigators. Our specialists are receiving all kinds of training and connections and resources so they can say, ‘Oh, here’s who you need to talk to.’”