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Anne Arundel school board reviews mental health task force, names new VP, approves 135K transportation consultant

Anne Arundel school board reviews mental health task force, names new VP, approves 135K transportation consultant
Students from Severna Park High School organized a "Our Minds Matter" rally at Susan Campbell Park in Annapolis to call attention to mental health awareness. (Paul W. Gillespie / Capital Gazette)

The groundwork has been laid for Anne Arundel County’s mental health task force, an effort spurred by school board members concerned about increasing rates of anxiety and depression among young people.

Melissa Ellis, of Millersville, called on schools Superintendent George Arlotto to convene the group in May. In the weeks since, school and county leaders have named the task force’s co-chairs, released a timeline and determined the scope of the group’s work.

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The task force will be a collaboration between the school district and county government. Its co-chairs are Ryan Voegtlin, director of student services, and Adrienne Mickler, executive director of the Anne Arundel County Mental Health Agency.

County Executive Steuart Pittman called the partnership a “no-brainer.”

“I believe that parents judge their own success and their kids’ success based on mental health,” Pittman said. "Grades are great, standardized tests are great, but if kids aren’t happy and well-adjusted, that’s where the problems lie.”

The task force has four goals: identify factors that contribute to students’ mental health needs; coordinate services and communication between the school system, county government and providers; determine proactive measures and best practices; and make recommendations for improved delivery of services to children and their families.

Ellis said she was pleased with progress made since May to get the task force started.

“It’s turning into exactly what I wanted to see happen for our students,” Ellis said.

The task force will begin meeting in September. Their meeting is open to the public, but members of the community will not be allowed to participate.

Subsequent meetings are scheduled for November, January and March. Members will release their final report in May 2020.

The task force’s membership has not been selected yet, but district leaders want to include students, parents, community groups, mental health experts, and representatives from the county and school system.

Leadership changes

Board members held annual board officer elections Wednesday morning, and selected Michelle Corkadel, who represents District 7, to serve as vice president.

The seat was previously held by Josie Urrea, whose term as student member ended this month.

Terry Gilleland was reelected as board president. He’s held the role since February.

State law mandates the school board elect its officers in July, but Anne Arundel County held an unexpected election after four new members, elected by the public, joined the board in December.

Before Corkadel took her seat on the school board she served as a constituent services officer for former county executive, Steve Schuh. She’s a community organizer, and serves on the board of the Crofton Regional Community Center. Corkadel is also the Sunday School superintendent at the church she attends with her family.

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“My agenda is about the students and the students’ needs, and improving upon our successes,” Corkadel said.

She’ll help oversee the Board of Education’s $250,000 internal audit. But there’s a long way to go; the board needs to determine the scope of the audit, set a timeline and find an external auditor.

“I think it’s always healthy to have self-evaluation,” Corkadel said. She wants to find ways for the board to communicate more effectively with the public and figure out how to “squeeze more resources into the classroom."

More money for transportation

And, following a public outcry, board members approved a $135,811 contract with a transportation consultation firm.

Board members have asked North Carolina-based Prismatic Services, Inc. to make recommendations regarding school start times, analyze daily school bus routing, and identify ways for the transportation department to improve its practices, according to an RFP issued by the school district in May.

“We were heartened by the fact that they understand the business of schools, the business of public education, and the business of transportation,” Alex Szachnowicz, chief operating officer for the school system, said about Prismatic. The firm has done work in other Maryland counties.

The hiring of the consultant comes as the school system continues to roll out bus routing software it purchased for $473,000. It’s supposed to identify inefficiencies, and make the county’s network of buses more reliable, economical and safe. The software was introduced this past school year.

Twenty bus stops were changed, along with some arrival and departure times. Mapping software was implemented to streamline services.

The implementation came with a few hiccups. Parents complained of skipped-over bus stops and late drivers.

Szachnowicz said it will take two more years to finish the software’s implementation; new features are introduced each year.

“The schedules will have a greater degree of accuracy,” Szachnowicz said about the next phase of features. There will also be a feature called “Find My Bus,” where families can use a digital database to locate bus routes based on their home addresses.

Part of the transportation consultant’s job will be to look at the efficiency of the software implementation and determine if Anne Arundel County is using the right features.

“The consultant will help confirm we’re on the right path,” Szachnowicz said.

Prismatic is scheduled to deliver a draft report in November and a final report on Jan. 3, 2020.

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