Cape middle school to hire second social worker

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CAPE ELIZABETH — In an effort to address mental health in a more comprehensive manner, Cape Elizabeth Middle School is broadening the scope of social work. 

Fiscal year 2019’s budget as passed includes approximately $73,000 in funding for a second social worker at CEMS. Finance Director Catherine Messmer said the position could cost up to $87,000, depending on what experience the new hire has and what benefits they receive, but the cost will be “budget-neutral” because it will be supported by a Federal IDEA Local Entitlement Grant.

Principal Troy Eastman presented a description of the proposed position during a June 12 School Board meeting. 

Eastman suggested the job title be changed from “social worker” to “student services coordinator.” However, members of the board had concerns that the switch might cause confusion because funding was expressly approved for a social worker. 

“My concern is what we might be missing out on when we hire this role with this new job description in place of the social worker,” board member Hope Straw said. 

Another board member, Elizabeth Scifres, suggested they keep the job title, but direct school staff to re-evaluate the position’s description to meet the school’s needs, to which the board and Eastman agreed. 

Up until this point, the middle school has only had one social worker who, Eastman said, is “out straight” dedicating the “lion’s share” of their time to Individualized Education Programs for special education students. 

“This excludes (the majority) of our entire student body,” Eastman said. ” … What we need is someone to really address the needs of the larger population.”

Eastman suggested “attendance monitor” be included in the position’s amended responsibilities.

“Some kids just don’t come to school,” Eastman said, noting that administration does not closely monitor repetitive absences. “There are plenty of ways to be a failing school and one is to have your attendance rate fall below 95 percent. We’re at 95.5 percent.”

Other responsibilities would include case management, professional development for staff, student/parent advocate, student mediator, and a distributor of resources.

“(This) is working toward a position that has that training and skills, but provides a broader range of services to a larger school population and not to continue the limiting, but important role played by social workers working with children with an IEP,” Eastman said. 

Interim Superintendent Howard Colter said the new social worker’s position may “differ somewhat from that of the other social worker at the middle school.”

“This arrangement will be in step with how it works at Cape Elizabeth High School, where one social worker is mostly assigned to meet with students based on what is written into their IEPs, and the second social worker works primarily with the general student body,” Colter said. 

Eastman also suggested the description include licensed social workers as well as licensed clinical social workers.

“An LCSW can provide clinical counseling, so it’s a higher level, but I’m not sure all those things are that important for everything that we need,” he said.

Board Chairwoman Susana Measelle Hubbs thanked Eastman for his attention to the role. 

“I believe you’ve tapped into something that is long overdue and needs care,” she said. 

Colter said on June 20 that he anticipates the job being posted soon, with the hopes of beginning candidate interviews in July. 

“(The hope is to) cast a broad net to try to find a right person,” Eastman said. “I think it’s (important) to get the right job and support for the kids and teachers.”

Jocelyn Van Saun can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 183 or jvansaun@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter @JocelynVanSaun.

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