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Delegation Invited for “Life-Saving” Encore Presentation on Mental Health Practices


Pictured left to right: Dr. Laverne Mattocks-Perry, Dr. Al Royster, Dr. Letisha Judd-Manning, and Dr. Daniel Bullock.


Participants at the upcoming CUBE annual conference this month will have their devices, paper, and pens ready to take notes when Dr. Laverne Mattocks-Perry, Senior Executive Director of Student Support Services, and her DPS colleagues share an encore presentation regarding successful mental health and restorative practice strategies being used in Durham Public Schools. 


CUBE, or the Council of Urban Boards of Education, is a division of the National School Boards Association. It has convened school board members from across the nation for the past 55 years to network and share the continually evolving strategies they are using to address the unique educational challenges that exist in our nation's urban centers. Content is curated specifically to provide the tools and support needed to effect change as an empowered, impactful urban school board member.


The DPS delegation, which will present Programming and Promise: Building Healthy School Environments That Strengthen Student Well-Being, describes the district’s work as a collaborative measure that has seen positive results. 


“DPS has integrated this effort through a community-driven equity policy, public equity dashboard, Culture and Climate Learning Walk system, STOP Violence Prevention Director, and SEL Curriculum Implementation K-12. These are a few actions geared towards using data to ensure healthy school culture and climate and to further the mission of equity, excellence, and fulfillment of our student's limitless potential,” said Dr. Mattocks-Perry.


The presenting delegation includes Dr. Mattocks-Perry, Senior Executive Director, Student Support Services; Dr. Daniel Bullock, Executive Director, Office of Equity Affairs and Professional Development;Dr. Letisha Judd-Manning, Director, Integrated Academic and Behavior Systems (MTSS), and Dr. Albert Royster Jr., Executive Director, Office of Research and Accountability.


Dr. Mattocks-Perry pays tribute to the district’s Superintendent and Board of Education for placing a priority on sound student mental health.


“Dr. Mubenga and our Board support SEL (Social Emotional Learning), sound mental health, and allocating resources for this work,” said Mattocks-Perry.  As a result, she says, the district’s short-term, out-of-school suspension rate decreased from a baseline percentage of 8.76 in 2017-2018 to 7.8% in school year 2021-2022. Durham Public Schools also has a higher rate of learning recovery than the rest of the state of North Carolina, and are not experiencing a significant increase in suspension rates.


One reason is the emphasis placed on restorative practices, she said.


“It had an immediate impact,” said Mattocks-Perry. “This model saves days out of school.  Restorative practice centers provide reflection time in a safe environment for social and emotional and decision-making support. With restorative practices and alternatives to suspension, students can continue classwork with licensed, caring support staff.”


Mattocks-Perry said relationships are built through restorative practice. Staff go to the students’ home schools to provide restorative services, saving thousands of days out of the classroom.


“Their performance is better through continuity, and they are more likely able to catch up due to ongoing attendance.


The district’s approach is inter-departmental.


The Durham Public Schools Student Support Services team is working with Equity Affairs and Professional Learning  to address recovery and wellness by focusing school administrators on climate and relationships through the students’ eyes, she said. The workshops are differentiated, with SEL as a tenet of core instruction. Student Services works with Curriculum and Instruction to share minimal expectations about how to spend time in SEL during the school day. Schools and principals are further advised on how to maximize the instructional time. Professional learning also includes work around advocacy and management.


Mattocks-Perry said lessons from the district’s SEL curricula  are around social emotional competencies and teaching students how to express their emotions and recognize their feelings. 


“It is a core expectation. No matter what, there should be a consistent set of expectations being met. That becomes part of the conversation, with support and feedback, integration, and collaboration,” she said.


She added that when the DPS delegation presents at the CUBE conference, they will address removing the stigmas attached to mental health. They’ll cover aspects of wellness through equitable research-based supports, integrated modeling, and encourage reflections to promote discussion about how they can replicate some of DPS’ strategies for their own districts. Participants will engage in collaborative learning by sharing professional and personal experiences, and their next steps will be to take action that will result in different outcomes.


DPS utilizes a Family Liaison who provides high-level assistance and works with families for whom trust is difficult, with an emphasis on foster families, adjudicated youth, and young people in the criminal system because they have significant needs.


“At times, students don't have the tools to communicate well so their behavior is their communication.  Through professional development, educators and staff learn that they are communicating even when they aren’t speaking. We are the equalizer that can make the difference literally between life and death,” said Mattocks-Perry. “If we can get students to earn a high school diploma, research shows they will live 7-10 years longer than their peers without a diploma.”


Mattocks-Perry further explains that a high school diploma gives students confidence: they can fill out applications, eat better, and build a more stable lifestyle. “All of this that happens in student support services is to get students to graduation,” she said.”We’re working on quality of life and being well, dealing with the ups and downs of life, and making decisions about improving their stations and having more options in life. We believe in the things we are doing."