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First Principals’ Forum focuses on mental health

The first Principals' Forum, planned by the Department of Teaching and Leadership, focused on mental health for students, families and educators, themselves.

Although there have always been abundant opportunities for teachers interested in professional development, the same cannot be said for principals. It was with that in mind that the faculty in the Department of Teaching and Leadership in Pittsburg State University’s College of Education began planning the first Kansas-Arkansas-Missouri-Oklahoma Principals’ Forum.

“We worked with superintendents to identify principals in the four states to invite,” said Associate Professor Brenda Roberts, who was on the team that planned the conference.

She said they wanted to design an event that would help principals build their skills and also create a professional development network that they can turn to for ongoing support.

The topic they chose for the first KAMO Principals’ Forum was mental health, an issue that administrators and teachers increasingly report wrestling with.

On April 12-13, the 62 participants in the first forum heard from a variety of presenters, including Beth Yoder Stein from the Wyandotte Center for Community Behavioral Healthcare, Inc.; Lisa Garcia, the director of student services for the Kansas City, Kan., Public Schools; and Michael Berblinger, superintendent of the Buhler, Kan., School District.

The first day focused on mental health first aid and mental health issues of students. On the second day, the focus shifted to staff and the principals, themselves.

The participants said they found the discussion timely and valuable.

Donna Zerr, principal at Augusta High School, said mental health is the current “hot topic” among school administrators.

“We have so many kids with so many issues and honestly, we weren’t trained to deal with some of those things,” said Zerr, who has been an administrator for 14 years. “We’re trained to teach kids.”

Jodi Bennett is in her first year as the principal at Harry S. Truman Elementary School in Webb City, Mo., but like Zerr, she sees the growing need to address mental health issues among students and in families.

“Coming out of the classroom with the lower-aged kiddos, it was eye-opening for me to see how many of our second graders, third graders and fourth graders are struggling with anxiety and depression,” Bennett said. “We are trying to find ways to provide support to our staff, our teachers and our counselors on how we can address not only the students, but also provide support and assistance to the parents.”

Both Zerr and Bennett said they were surprised by the second day’s focus on mental health for staff and themselves, but found it very valuable.

“It was a nice surprise that today was about us,” Zerr said. “We don’t take care of ourselves very well. We’re just busy taking care of everybody else. That was really nice.”

Bennett said that as a first-year administrator, she was excited about the opportunity to network with both seasoned and beginning administrators.

“I appreciated the opportunity to start networking,” Bennett said. “I feel that I have some really good connections in teaching field, but being a first-year person this is a great opportunity to start networking with other administrators.”

Using feedback from this year’s participants, faculty in the College of Education are already laying the groundwork for the next Principals’ Forum.

Sponsors for the 2017 Principals’ Forum included PSU, the Office of Graduate and Continuing Studies, the College of Education, the Department of Teaching and Leadership, Career and Technical Education in the College of Technology, Crossland Construction, and Jim Sather with SEK Financial LLC.


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