Model Programs/Best Practices

Illinois School Takes Team Approach to School Safety

Location: Illinois By Becky Lewis Published January 2015

Again. She reads through the essay a second time, growing more uneasy with the re-reading. For the third time this marking period, the same themes show in the same student’s work, themes of despair and anger.

Should she approach him herself? No, better bring it to the attention of the Learning Support Team. Counselors, social workers, the school’s resource officer…they can focus a variety of skills on helping the student come to terms with his problems and get back him back to enjoying his final year of high school.

According to the Libertyville High School website, the school’s three Learning Support Teams (LSTs) support the academic, social-emotional and physical well-being of students. Instead of a more traditional approach where a single dean carries the responsibility for all students, the Illinois high school divides its 2,000 students among three LSTs. Each team includes two counselors who deal with academic planning and scheduling, a social worker who becomes involved with individual students as needed, and a team leader. The SRO, the school nurse and the student assistance program (SAP) coordinator, who deals with substance abuse and code of conduct issues, all attend every scheduled meeting of all three teams and also help with interventions as needed.

“School safety breaks down into two elements. One is the physical brick-and-mortar things we do, but the more important element consists of developing social-emotional and interpersonal relationships. The LST approach helps us get information about students and determine whether this is someone we need to have on our radar. Has he isolated himself? Is she being bullied? Is he exhibiting violent characteristics and making threats?” says Det. Bob Uliks of the Libertyville Police Department, who is the Libertyville High SRO.

Each team has a scheduled weekly meeting, but additionally meets on an as-needed basis to address specific concerns: “A teacher might identify something she found in a student’s paper that is alarming enough to bring to a team’s attention. At that point, we sit down and decide how to move forward. Obviously most students are well intentioned and take advantage of their educational experience. However, there also students who are not able to thrive for various reasons. These are the students we would like to have on our radar to address what they are lacking. At that point we would look at what the team has done before and whether it is working.”

Uliks says the LST may decide to interview the student and assign counseling or social work assistance, or it may determine that a law enforcement response is needed, perhaps because of disturbing social media posts.

“One example that comes to mind is a picture that a student had posted of himself with a gun and comments about how he was feeling that day. We took a copy of the photo and went to his house and spoke to his parents. We established he had no access to a weapon and there was no clear and present danger. It turned out he had taken the orange tab off an airsoft gun, but even I honestly thought it was a real gun,” Uliks says. “Once we addressed that aspect, we rolled it back to the LST and assigned the student to do a decision-making class with the social worker, learning about actions and consequences. That’s an example where everyone became involved, and the team approach really worked.”

Uliks says the LST concept predates his 11 years at the school, but he has seen the extent of SRO involvement in the process continue to increase over time. Prior to implementing the LSTs, Libertyville, which is a northern suburb of Chicago, used the more traditional single dean approach. Switching to LSTs allowed the team members to really get to know and understand the students in their group.

“The LST concept helps the student from a more holistic standpoint. Thinking back to when I was in school, if you got in trouble, you went in and received your punishment. This approach addresses the behavior. Is it something more than just being a normal teenager? Is there something going on at home? Is there a substance abuse issue? A learning issue?” Uliks says. “It ties school behaviors to what is going on in the community and at home, and we can usually figure out why the kid is not succeeding. It just comes full circle to address everything and determine what the student might need to get back on track.”

You may also be interested in watching "Learning Support Team Model," an NLECTC Minute Video on YouTube.