JCPS Board of Education Sign

Jefferson County Public Schools Van Hoose Education Center on Newburg Road.

FRANKFORT, Ky. (WDRB) -- Jefferson County Public Schools will begin hiring dozens of mental health professionals once the local school board approves a job description Tuesday, JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio said Wednesday.

Pollio, who was in Frankfort to give the Kentucky Board of Education an update on the district's progress on its corrective action plan, said schools have been provided money for the new positions in the district's preliminary budget for next school year through what's known as "add-on" spending.

The Jefferson County Board of Education will be asked Tuesday to approve a job description for mental health practitioners during its regular meeting.

Those hired for the new roles will be responsible for providing group- and individual-level interventions, engaging with families of students who need help, and training and consulting with school staff, among other job duties listed in the description.

The district is looking for potential hires to have credentials in psychology, social work, counseling, or marriage and family therapy. Candidates would ideally have at least three years of experience in providing mental health or behavioral support for school-aged kids, experience working with children exposed to trauma, and experience in crisis intervention and counseling, the job description says.

Pollio told reporters that the district aims to hire a mental health counselor for every middle and high school and for all elementary schools identified for comprehensive or targeted supports in state testing. The district will also hire enough mental health professionals who will handle two elementary schools, he said.

Pollio has previously said the district plans to hire 60 additional mental health counselors – there are 40 on staff now – to greatly improve access to mental health professionals for JCPS students.

"We've added add-ons to every school for a mental health professional, and that job description will be hopefully approved on Tuesday night," he said.

The school board will also be asked to approve an agreement with Wellfront Readiness Solutions for on-site behavioral and mental health services covered through private insurance or Medicaid. The memorandum of agreement runs through Dec. 31 and can be renewed every year if JCPS gives written notice 30 days before the contract expires.

Pollio has stressed the need for more mental health counseling in recent months, and lawmakers are considering legislation that hopes to make schools across Kentucky safer, in part, by boosting the presence of those professionals in school districts.

In fact, Pollio included the district's plans to hire more mental health professionals as he urged a legislative panel on school safety in November to consider the counseling needs of students when crafting a bill.

Pollio also emphasized the need for more mental health counseling in the aftermath of the suicide death of Seven Bridges, a fifth grader at Kerrick Elementary, last month. Bridges' family said he was a bullying victim.

JCPS is also interviewing for a new head of special education, which was included in the district's corrective action plan with the Kentucky Department of Education that avoided a state takeover of Kentucky's largest school district, Pollio said.

KDE gave JCPS an extension on the hire in December after the district had trouble finding the right candidate to fill the position.

JCPS must make a hire by March 1 under the new deadline.

Reach reporter Kevin Wheatley at 502-585-0838 and kwheatley@wdrb.com. Follow him on Twitter @KevinWheatleyKY.

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