Crenshaw County Schools hosts informational session on Multi-Tiered System of Support 

By Haley Mitchell-Godwin

The Crenshaw County Board of Education hosted the inaugural Multi-Tiered System of Support media blitz and information session Oct. 28. 

Community partners, parents, teachers, and all stakeholders were invited to learn about this pilot program and partnership between Crenshaw County Schools and the Alabama State Department of Education. 

According to Dodd Hawthorne, Superintendent of Crenshaw County Schools, MTSS is a comprehensive framework that encompasses the academic, behavioral, physical, mental health and wellness, and social-emotional needs of students that will create a constructive environment for learning and will have a far-reaching positive impact on students.

“With MTSS, we are talking about the whole child,” Hawthorne said. “The number of kids that come to us with socio-emotional issues is growing. Although much of our time is focused on academics, we must look at the whole child and everything that interferes with learning and achievement.”

Sherry Sport, special education director and member of the district MTSS team, said that two of the MTSS goals, the implementation of a crisis-management response plan, and the development and utilization of evidence-based best practices, are based on the fact children and adolescents sometimes struggle to regulate emotions.

“Children can have adverse childhood experiences that result in issues at school,” Sport said. Whether 4 years old or 18, managing their emotions can be a struggle. We’re aligning mental health training for all faculty and staff to learn how to help children cope when facing any obstacle and will be working with teacher feedback to develop individual school plans.”

Kris Odom, education specialist with the school system and MTSS team member, discussed the third goal of MTSS that has been addressed with a change to the absentee policy. 

“A step has been made to the truancy policy where, after seven unexcused absences, students and parents will go before a truancy committee so we can get a quicker handle on the issue,” Odom said. “We want to ensure that when students leave us, they’ve had every opportunity to succeed, but we can only work on this when they are present at school.”

The main objective of the MTSS initiative, according to Cody Carnley, Federal Programs and K-6 curriculum director, is to ensure students have support for any challenge that may arise. 

“We don’t want there to be any barriers, and we’re working to build upon a safe and supportive learning environment so that we can thoroughly meet the needs of every student,” Carnley said. 

Carnley stated MTSS emphasizes a strong network within the community is necessary to create a proper educational environment that will prove to benefit the entire community.

“Our goal is to change all of Crenshaw County for the better, not just our schools,” she said. “Many of us are products of (these schools) and know the important role that the school system played in who we are today. We want to continue that legacy of excellence while strengthening our partnerships with everyone in the community.”

Jonathan Thompson, with the Alabama State Department of Education’s Instructional services division, said he has enjoyed collaborating with the MTSS team and is looking forward to an extended relationship between the state department and Crenshaw County Schools. 

“It’s truly been a blessing to work with the Crenshaw County School System,” Thompson said. “The devotion and hard work of everyone involved and the engagement from Mr. Hawthorne has been like no other. Crenshaw County was selected for this pilot program as one of only six systems in the state because of things you all were already doing for the whole child. It is clear, by the number of community partners and stakeholders here today, that support here is truly remarkable.”

Beverly Sport, science teacher at Luverne, is thankful that Crenshaw County Schools has adopted the MTSS model. Sport is nearing completion of an education specialist degree and has taken a course on MTSS.  Sport has done lengthy research where she studied how states like Michigan and Washington have had great success with MTSS and said that her studies point to the fact that the utilization of MTSS will create an equitable, consistent and flexible school system. 

“Academic issues are often the result of barriers to the educational process and we must eliminate those barriers and meet the fundamental needs of students before we can begin the process of academic learning,” Sport said. “MTSS is a tool that empowers educators to focus on identifying academic, social-emotional and behavioral issues, find the root cause, and provide students and families with resources  It’s a win for our students, our school and our community.”