CHARLES TOWN – Jefferson County Schools, tapping into its share of a pot of $30.5 million from the West Virginia Legislature, is forming a centralized administrative division to better respond to increasing social and emotional needs of students.

“We’re seeing more and more need to address the wellness of our kids,” said Shawn Dilly, deputy superintendent for instruction.

Dilly is overseeing the new social and emotional support division. He began the process to establish the division last July after the Legislature allocated the funds in the special funding to Jefferson and 30 other counties during a special legislative session the previous month.

One goal of the division will be to establish a single contact point for in-school counselors to obtain a variety of assistance or resources to help students grappling with emotional issues or situations that might be interfering with their learning, Dilly said.

Counselors are being called to help more students distracted from learning for an increasing variety of reasons, from family breakups to performance anxiety over test taking to personal turmoil caused by a relative’s drug addiction, he said. “So we have to build increasing amounts of support to help kids navigate these many challenges,” he said. “We’re seeing increasingly unprepared students entering schools.”

More students are behaving in ways that interfere with not only their own learning but also with the learning of others in classrooms, Dilly said. “We see a lot more disruptive behavior to the instructional environment than we’ve ever seen in the past, and they don’t always fit a special education classroom,” he said.

The trend involves students with good academic performances as well as those struggling to do well with their grades, he added.

The West Virginia Department of Education reported that the 31 counties that received the state funding were seeing more students with problems resulting from the opioid crisis and an increase in poverty rates.

Lee Ebersole, who has worked as an administrator for Jefferson’s school system for more than six years, was tapped in July to head the division. He previously coordinated the school system’s federal funding programs.

Last month Dilly said the county’s social and emotional support division was still being formed. School officials said this week that details will be presented during a school board meeting on Monday. The meeting starts at 7 p.m. in the school administration building at 110 Mordington Ave. in Charles Town.

In June, the Legislature passed House Bill 206 to give several school systems not only extra funding but also significant latitude to decide how to spend the money, said Delegate Paul Espinosa (R-Jefferson), a member and former chair of the House of Delegates Education Committee.

Hiring and training school counselors, nurses, psychologists and social workers is a priority goal of the legislature’s funding, state education officials reported. But school systems can decide on their own whether to hire new personnel, train existing staff, invest in programs or contract for outside expertise, Espinosa explained.

“We wanted school systems to have that flexibility,” he said.

Nevertheless, school systems throughout West Virginia have encountered a shortage of available school counselors and psychologists because of the rising need to help more students with emotional issues, Espinosa said. The shortage of expertise, he said, might force school systems to outsource more support services rather than hire new staff.

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