The mission of Tangipahoa Parish School System is to provide every student with a high-quality education and a pathway to success.
Located in Tangipahoa Parish, Louisiana, the district serves a diverse population of over 19,000 students across 32 schools. Their core values are: "Be Respectful, Be Compassionate, Be Great," but the importance of this work goes far beyond the current context.
Tangipahoa Parish is currently involved in one of the oldest desegregation cases in the country. After over 56 years in the federal courts, the district is now in a three-year provisional unitary status period in order to achieve full unitary status. The district’s work to implement trauma-informed practices, restorative practices, equity, and SEL and well-being has played a large role in their journey to unitary status.
We sat down with three members of the Tangipahoa team – Amy Fairchild, LCSW (school social worker), Crystal Hooper, LPC-S (school counselor), and Dr. Byron Hurst, Ed.D. (assistant superintendent) – to hear about a key part of their school climate work: using social-emotional learning assessment data as a vehicle for systems change.
Amy, Crystal, and Dr. Hurst shared how Tangipahoa Parish School System’s work to implement trauma-informed practices began, why they choose Panorama for SEL to measure student and adult SEL, and how they take action on their data at the district and school levels to holistically support learners and staff.
Read excerpts from our conversation below or watch the full webinar recording.
Building on a Strong Foundation of Trauma-Informed Practices
Amy Fairchild, LCSW: Since her hiring, Tangipahoa Parish Superintendent Melissa Stilley has been committed to approaching behavior, discipline, and student engagement through a trauma-informed lens. In 2018, the district moved away from a punitive system for discipline to one that incorporates restorative practices and a trauma-sensitive approach.
The goal: to start pioneering a mindset shift toward exploring the why behind behaviors.
Instead of spending most of the time correcting behaviors, the goal for our educators and support staff is now to spend the majority of our time connecting. This means that we are building a high sense of safety, trust, and belonging through:
- Transitional cues
- Behavior matching
- Offering choices to students
- Relationship-building interventions
- Trauma-informed practices
Source: KPICD Trust-Based Relational Intervention
Our shift towards trauma-informed care provided a strong foundation for our student and adult SEL work, which began in 2020-21.
Using SEL and Well-Being Data to Support Educators and Shift Mindsets
Dr. Byron Hurst Ed.D.: On March 13, 2020, Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards ordered all schools in the state to close. We assumed that the shutdown would only last a few weeks. But, by April, in-person learning was officially suspended for the remainder of the academic year.
During the summer, amid ambiguity around which learning models we'd be offering in the fall, our priority shifted to understanding the needs of our staff.
As we began to search for ways to assess the overall well-being of our staff, Tangipahoa Parish was selected as one of five districts in the state to participate in a new social-emotional learning and mental health pilot program.
Given these urgent needs, we knew it was important to find a partner who was an expert in SEL measurement and skilled at guiding educators through understanding data. That’s when we found Panorama Education, who brought years of expertise to the exact areas we needed support with.
Since partnering with Panorama, the data we have collected – combined with the new strategies we are implementing – has shed light on the state of our district’s climate and the social-emotional development of our students. We knew they were the perfect partner for this work when we saw that equity was at the heart of their approach to SEL. Our district was already moving in this direction. Now, with Panorama, we have the baseline data that we need to move forward.
"Since partnering with Panorama, the data we have collected has shed new light on both the state of our district's climate as well the social-emotional development of our students. We knew they were the perfect partner for this work when we saw that equity was at the heart of their approach to SEL."
—Dr. Byron Hurst, Ed.D.
Elevating Student and Staff Voices During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Amy Fairchild, LCSW: This past summer, our district officially formed a Well-being Team. Our mission was two-fold:
- Understand how students and staff were coping with the stress of the pandemic
- Create ways for them to become part of ongoing decisions
To get a better understanding of where our students were, we administered a survey with Panorama (for students in grades 3-12) that focused on measuring engagement, sense of belonging, relationships, and the overall school climate.
For our staff and educators, we knew that we needed to focus on self-care and well-being. Our team was intentional about not adding anything to our teachers’ already full plates, so we first created a district-wide survey with Panorama for our administrators, teachers, and support staff on each campus to provide overall insights into the climate of the schools and the district as a whole.
Topics from Panorama’s SEL Survey used by Tangipahoa Parish School System.
We wanted to have close alignment between our student and adult survey topics. How were teachers and students viewing their relationships with each other? How were teachers perceiving their relationships with leadership? With so many additional stressors due to the pandemic, what was the overall school climate? Do discrepancies exist between what students and educators are saying?
We also included free response questions on the surveys, which empowered students and staff to have voice and share additional concerns or questions.
"For our staff and educators, we knew that we needed to focus on self-care and well-being. We first created a district-wide survey with Panorama for our administrators, teachers, and support staff on each campus to provide overall insights into the climate of the schools and the district as a whole. How were teachers perceiving their relationships with leadership? With so many additional stressors due to the pandemic, what was the overall school climate?"
—Amy Fairchild, LCSW
Developing a District Action Plan Using Panorama Data
Crystal Hooper, LPC-S: The concrete data from our Panorama surveys gave us a birds-eye view of the climate and culture on each campus and across the district.
For example, relationships emerged as an area of strength. Our students told us that they felt supported by caring adults on their campuses. In addition, our staff and teachers shared that their relationships with colleagues and leadership were strong.
"The concrete data we gathered from our Panorama surveys allowed us to see a birds-eye view of the district and gain insight into school climate and culture on each campus. From there, we used the survey results to develop a district-wide plan for holistically supporting students and staff."
—Crystal Hooper, LPC-S
Our staff and children were also candid about what was happening and what we needed to improve. The data revealed opportunities to work on engagement and sense of belonging. We had to find new ways to connect and engage, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Panorama data gave us a framework to do this work.
From there, we put together a district plan that listed our strengths and opportunities for supporting students and staff. We used an assets-based approach to help our schools use existing structures and practices – such as restorative circles or interventions from Panorama’s Playbook – to hone-in on improving sense of belonging and engagement. And, all the while, we have been keeping an eye toward the fall of 2021.
Prioritizing Systems Change in the Transition Back to School
Dr. Byron Hurst, Ed.D.: As we continue to forge ahead and plan for back-to-school this coming fall, we know that we must continue to use student and staff voices as a lever for systems change and educational equity. Our Well-being Team is meeting with every school in Tangipahoa Parish to help them take a deeper look at their data ahead of the fall.
The work that has been done so far in Tangipahoa Parish would not have been possible without a diverse team leading the change, including Rev. Gary Porter (director of student services), Denise Latour, (high school counselor), Tiffany Edwards (elementary counselor), Jocelyn Nelson and Heather Tucker (social skills coaches).
We are breaking down silos and sharing learnings across schools to ensure that we can collectively navigate the uncertainty of this year while setting students and educators up for success in 2021-22.
The perspectives of our teachers and learners have never been more critical to ensuring equitable and supportive learning environments. Our stakeholders must continue to feel valued and appreciated while knowing that their voices are changing mindsets and shifting practices.