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Glendale Unified candidates discuss how to address mental-health issues in schools at forum

Glendale Unified candidate forum
Left to right, school board candidates Neda Farid-Farhoumand, Jennifer Freemon, Joy McCreary, Nayiri Nahabedian and Jeremy Spurley gather to discuss their approaches to multiple subjects relating to Glendale Unified.
(Vera Castaneda)

Five candidates running for seats on the Glendale Unified school board in the March 3 primary election spoke at a recent forum about their approaches to solve a critical issue previously highlighted during Student Voice panels — mental health.

Geoff Albert, the forum moderator and first district PTA vice president, said students in California are reporting high levels of anxiety and depression, in particular those who identify as LGBTQ.

He asked the candidates at the forum, which was held at Glendale Unified headquarters, how they would address mental health as school board members.

The three candidates vying for Trustee in Area A — recent local graduate Joy McCreary, middle school administrator Jeremy Spurley and current board president Jennifer Freemon — offered different approaches.

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McCreary said she would make sure the district is using all existing resources such as reaching out to county and private partnerships. She would apply for grants and make one goal of the Local Control Accountability Plan to increase counselors and therapists to match student ratios as a way to hold the district accountable.

McCreary would also push for an everyday social emotional curriculum.

“Kids spend a lot of time in class, and it’s the best way to go about making change,” she said.

Spurley spoke from his teaching experience since part of his daily responsibilities involves identifying students with mental health issues and working with counselors and psychologists.

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He said he believes in a comprehensive counseling model that would provide professional development to counselors, psychologists and administrators while continuing to hire as many social-work interns as possible to meet the needs of students.

Freemon said she would make use of the resources available to the district such as the county’s well-being centers and an intern program while communicating with parents to reduce stigma attached with mental illness.

“We are not funded at a level that really allows us to significantly and substantially increase those staff people that we truly need,” Freemon said.

For long-term action, she thinks it’s crucial to work with advocacy organizations to push the state to change how it views mental-health services and recognize a distinction between academic, emotional and college counselors.

Neda Farid-Farhoumand, the Glendale Council PTA’s executive vice president, said, “We need to have better assessments first and foremost. I also think that our counselors are overworked. They are tasked with too many things.”

She added that counseling needs a three-tier model of academic, social-emotional and college-specific counselors.

She pointed out the importance of starting at the elementary level and considering the cultural piece of the issue in order to provide services in different languages so that families can actively participate in educating themselves.

As for LGBTQ students, she said the “arts are an excellent way to begin those conversations in a safe space.”

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Farid-Farhoumand is running for Trustee in Area E against current board member Nayiri Nahabedian, who said, as a social worker, mental health is close to her heart and part of why she is on the board.

“When I first was on this board, I was really shocked that we did not have the kind of services that we could have. We are now focusing on — not just what is required in an (Individualized Education Plan) for services to students in terms of psychologist help. We are doing more than that,” Nahabedian said.

Nahabedian pointed there are about 30 supervised social-work interns working in schools, the district provides services to areas regardless of whether they are mandated, and Ally Week in some schools supports the LGBTQ community.

Several other topics were addressed, including undocumented students, the district’s relationships with parents, additional school revenue, restrooms and advocacy.

The next candidate forum will be held, along with candidates running for seats on Glendale Community College’s board, from 11:30 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. on Feb. 27 at Glendale Elks Lodge & Club, 120 E. Colorado St.

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