A school-based health center is coming to the Edmonds School District later this year, after the district’s Board of Directors unanimously approved an agreement with Community Health Centers (CHC) of Snohomish County during its June 28 regular business meeting. Plans call for the health center to be located at Meadowdale High School and will include two phases of implementation.
The clinic is the first of its kind to be located in Snohomish County and will provide access to services for some of the district’s most at-risk students. The on-campus health center is sponsored by the Verdant Health Commission along with CHC of Snohomish County, which will staff and manage it.
School-based health centers are located in or adjacent to a school and offer integrated medical, behavioral health and other health care services such as dental care. Services provided are typically defined by community need and primary care is provided by a physician assistant or nurse practitioner, licensed mental health providers and a clinic coordinator.
The board first began discussing the idea last summer and staff have since been gathering input and additional information that was presented to directors during follow up discussions. Staff had identified the north end of the school district as an area of particular need citing the lack of a federally qualified health center in that area to service some of its students and families in need there.
Phase one of the implementation will create a temporary space, at minimal cost to the district, for the health center at Meadowdale High School by utilizing a small room located inside the school that has its own exit to the outside. Some minor modifications are necessary to convert the space into a clinic that is anticipated to open at the end August, allowing students to access clinic services — many of which are traditionally associated with going back to school.
The school-based health center will offer a variety of services from primary health care and mental health support to immunizations, athletic medical assessments and dental care.
Mara Marano-Bianco, the district’s director of health services, presented an update to the board and said it’s important the program is designed “to be sustainable in the long run.” She noted that during the first phase of implementation, the clinic’s health services will be targeted toward the student population at Meadowdale High School. That will include “any student that is registered” there “regardless of their truant status to be able to participate with consent in the school-based health center,” she said.
She told the board that the first phase will be aimed at adapting the program and “looking at how those services are going to be moving forward. The program aim is to really improve the physical and mental health status of the students enrolled in Meadowdale High School, guaranteeing them access to both primary and preventative care,” she said, along with improving student knowledge of preventative health practices to reduce their own risk-taking behaviors.
Marano-Bianco noted that to ensure the program is sustainable, it will be crucial to “look at building trust and rapport in our students, staff and families. So right now we are only looking at Meadowdale High School students being eligible for the requirement of participating within the clinic.”
To enroll and receive services offered by the school-based health center,“students are required to submit an enrollment signed form by a parent or guardian. If a student who is not enrolled in primary care, depending on the seriousness of their condition, the school-based health center will contact parents to obtain permission or request that that student submit a signed enrollment form,” she said.
Marano-Bianco added that “there are students within the high school environment who can consent to certain services, under Washington state law, on their own behalf. And keep in mind all students can then also receive first aid regardless of their enrollment status based on the Samaritan law.” She had previously told directors that establishing a school-based health center would not replace school nurses — who can help augment those services by coordinating student needs with the health care providers.
Providing a location for students in need to access various health services can help benefit the students and their families by reducing barriers to health care, she said. Such programs also positively impact other factors such as student attendance and grades, mental health, oral health and vision; along with administrative-related issues such as immunization concerns.
Phase two of the implementation plan is establishing a permanent external site at Meadowdale for the clinic “where we can then increase access to services to our students,” Marano-Bianco said. She noted that doing so “is going to be a larger endeavor for us as the district and as a partner group.”
Expected startup costs for the structure and necessary measures to make it operational are approximately $800,000, which would be grant funded. Marano-Bianco added that CHC of Snohomish County recently submitted a funding proposal to Snohomish County for the proposed external location. The Edmonds School District and Verdant both provided letters of support for that funding effort.
Planning efforts are targeting February 2023, but a large part of that involves identifying funding for a modular portable/relocatable structure and the associated infrastructure it would need to provide health services. In addition, the school district is working with Verdant to financially support the site planning, development design and coordination support necessary.
Next steps during the second phase include finalizing funding, formalizing partnerships, construction planning and design, obtaining permits and developing a lease agreement.
Moving forward, the process also includes upcoming community meeting forums “to have dialogue about what is happening,” Marano-Bianco said, which will start in August and be ongoing.
The board directors said they were excited for the program — noting how it can benefit students, their families and district goals — and looked forward to approving the interagency agreement with CHC of Snohomish County for staffing and managing the student-based health center. Under the agreement, additional school-based health sites could be located at other district high schools including Edmonds-Woodway, Lynnwood, Mountlake Terrace and Scriber Lake.
“I’m thrilled that we’re doing this and I think that it will benefit us,” said Board Vice President Deborah Kilgore. “I just can’t imagine that we could hesitate on this at all. I just think it’s a wonderful thing for the school district and it’s going to be incredible for our kids.”
In other business, the board was scheduled to have a second reading and discussion about approving a new district policy for resolving staff complaints. But directors voted to table it until later, citing the need to further examine the policy.
President Nancy Katims noted the directors preferred to first have a study session, likely in August, “where we can go deeper into it. The board has some questions and we had heard from staff as well with some questions. Directors also want to look at the policies of other districts “before we finalize our policy,” she added.
During the meeting, Interim Superintendent Dr. Rebecca Miner took her oath of office. Miner was selected in April to serve as the district’s interim superintendent for the 2022-23 school year and she noted her first official day in the position is on Friday. The board of directors said they were looking forward to working with her.
Superintendent Dr. Gustavo Balderas, who has been with the Edmonds School District since July 2020, announced in March that he is leaving to head up the Beaverton School District in Oregon. His last day in the Edmonds School District will be June 30 and Tuesday marked his last meeting with the board of directors. They all thanked him for his work and efforts with the district during that time noting that it occurred throughout the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Balderas said that as he looks back on the past two years with the school district, “I’m very proud of the accomplishments of the system and the work we did. Together we moved the district forward during a pandemic which was very difficult — I saw across the country just a tremendous hit at our educational system and across the world.”
“But I want to talk about some of the achievements that we achieved together, because we achieved these together as an entire district, as an entire community,” he added. Those included “successfully transitioned kids from remote learning back to in-person,” which Balderas described as “not easy” amid changing conditions and public health guidelines. “I appreciate every one of the staff members from our drivers to our cooks to our paraeducators to our teachers to our administrators,” he added and also thanked every department along with the school board.
He cited the board for its “vision and continued leadership through this pandemic,” adding “you as a school board were steadfast in your leadership, your commitment and just your laser-like focus on what we needed to do.”
Other achievement Balderas cited from the past two years included approval of the district’s strategic plan to guide it moving forward along with an upcoming planned rebrand as well, approval of a property lease with Housing Hope to provide housing located near Cedar Valley Elementary School in Lynnwood for district students and families in need, improvements to the school improvement plan process to help meet the needs of all students, the plan developed to open up the first school-based health center located in Snohomish County, establishing and expanding dual-language programs for students at several schools, providing various types of additional professional development to staff – particularly concerning diversity and equities, construction improvements and/or repair projects approved for several schools, and the voter-approved passage of two funding levies – especially during the pandemic.
“I am confident that what we accomplished will provide the groundwork for continued success for students and the improvement of the system,” Balderas added. He thanked the board for the opportunity “to help serve” the school district and said it “is in great hands” with Dr. Miner.
Director Keith Smith was absent from Tuesday night’s meeting.
— By Nathan Blackwell