34-year Education Veteran Still Pushes The Limits When It Comes To Improving His District

Wahpeton Public Schools

– Rick Jacobson, Superintendent

A 34-year education veteran still pushes the limits when it comes to improving his district. Rick Jacobson, Wahpeton Public Schools superintendent, wanted to work with children and get into coaching but the route he took opened a lot of doors and brought him to his current position that he’s held for the past five years.

Today he oversees a district of 1,250 students and describes it simply – student-centered.

“Initially I wanted to work with kids and the idea of teaching and coaching seemed to be the logical career path to take,” says Jacobson.

Wahpeton Superintendent Rick Jacobson
Wahpeton Superintendent
Rick Jacobson

Now, his resume reads as follows: seven years as a teacher and coach; eight years as a principal (grades 7-9), athletic director and coach; 14 years as a superintendent, business manager and coach; and finally the last five years have been spent strictly as a superintendent.

As an individual who describes his schools as student-centered it makes perfect sense that he was fully supportive of implementing the Nurtured Heart Approach (NHA) in grades K-5.

“About three years ago we had a terrible behavior issue at one of our elementary schools and it was causing staff morale to drop at a fast rate. Principal Rose Hardie researched programs to correct the issue and the Nurtured Heart Approach rose to the top.”

According to Jacobson, the year prior to implementation the office had approximately 350 referrals, but since NHA that number has dropped to about 40, staff morale is once again at a healthy level and the climate in the building has never been better.

“NHA focuses on not giving energy to negative behavior, but instead builds relationships with students and parents while making sure there are clear expectations.”

“Although it was a struggle at times to get full-staff buy-in and find the time/resources to have everyone properly trained, our continuous professional development and coaching has really worked and we continue to work hard through the implementation process to make it as effective as possible.”

Currently, Wahpeton has five certified trainers for NHA and two principals (Rose Hardie and Steve Hockert) have presented at conferences and shared their experiences with NHA. Jacobson was also able to give other South East Education Cooperative (SEEC) administrators interested in the program background information and implementation tips at past SEEC meetings.

Jacobson’s involvement with the SEEC has been seen in various ways. He regularly attends administrator meetings and is also serving as the Lead Administrator-Elect on the SEEC Governing Board.

“Once I saw and understood the purpose of the SEEC, it was very easy to decide that getting involved was the only option. I chose to take a more proactive approach once I began seeing all the professional development opportunities available. Over the last few years, the PD has had tremendous value to teachers in my schools.”

Jacobson rattled off some of the areas where SEEC has been able to offer a helping hand: Multi-Tiered Systems of Support; The Breakthrough Coach; Common Core training; Steve Dunn Writing; Academic Literacy Workshops along with the Principal Advisory Committee and Program Advisory Committee meetings.

On top of those items Wahpeton School District has also jumped on board, along with 12 other SEEC districts, with the SEEC’s AppliTrack Consortium. AppliTrack is online recruitment and HR management software used to assist districts with posting and advertising job vacancies.

The most recent of Wahpeton’s collaboration with the SEEC is through two pilot programs. First, the district is piloting a Medicaid claiming and billing software through the SEEC to help with the districts Medicaid eligible services such as physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech/language/pathology therapy. SEEC is venturing into this opportunity in hopes of helping districts receive Medicaid dollars that are available for services already being provided to students at school. The SEEC is still piloting the program and software with Wahpeton, West Fargo and South Valley Special Education Unit, and will share more information at a future date.

“Medicaid billing support has been a great help this past year. Being able to collect dollars that was left on the table in the past is great. Reimbursement on qualifying services allows us to financially provide better services for those students who need extra help.”

Second, Wahpeton has partnered with the SEEC and Breckenridge Public Schools to bring the expertise of a registered dietician to the district to help with the school’s food service. Important accomplishments in the new partnership include implementing a breakfast reimbursement program at the high school and leading school wellness policy updates.

Moving towards future years of work with the SEEC, Jacobson hopes to see services surrounding the issue of mental health within schools.

“This is a continuous battle that all schools struggle with and we could use support for both students and faculty.”

The SEEC recognizes this challenge that our schools are facing and have been at the table for discussions regarding proposed legislation to support school districts address the mental health needs of students and families in our communities. Even though the proposed bill did not receive funding this legislative session we will continue to work to be part of the solution for schools.

The SEEC has partnered with member school districts to support a cohort of Youth Mental Health First Aid (YMHFA) trainers. There will be several YMHFA training opportunities in the coming months. In addition, four school counselors will be completing the requirements to serve as Question, Persuade, and Refer (QPR) for Suicide Prevention trainers and will also have several upcoming training opportunities.

One thing that Jacobson says he has learned over the years is to GET INVOLVED and be a leader in school-related groups. I think that is easy to see now that you’ve read all the ways he’s jumped on board with multiple SEEC projects and is willing to push for something new and intuitive that will benefit students, staff and community.

“You can sit back and complain or get involved. I chose to get involved because I wanted my schools to be taking advantage of opportunities the SEEC was providing. Over the past 10 years, the opportunities have been incredible. If schools are not taking advantage of them they are truly missing out.”

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