Hernando Schools: Meet the new safety and mental health directors

Published September 4 2018
Updated September 4 2018

The state Legislature’s reaction to the February shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Broward County continues to reverberate through Florida schools.

New legislation requires improved of school security, including school resource officers, facility updates and two new administrative positions for each district — a director of safe schools and a mental heath coordinator.

Hernando County schools recently filled the roles by promoting two employees with extensive background in student services. The Tampa Bay Times asked each director her goals for this year.

Jill Renihan, director of safe schools

Tell us about yourself. What makes you a good fit for this job?

I earned my bachelor’s degree in emotionally handicapped education from the University of South Florida and used that to improve student behavior in the classroom.

For seven years I was a behavior specialist/analyst for the Hernando County school district and worked to support special needs students from ages 3 to 21 who had behavioral and emotional challenges.

I have served students with every exceptionality and at every school in the district. At West Hernando Middle School specifically, I developed and administered the first mental health day-treatment program by collaborating with a mental health therapist, teachers and paraprofessionals.

I also served as a school-based administrator for the past 14 years, at all levels.

School safety has been a passion of mine, and I am pleased to have the opportunity to focus on it full-time for all of the schools. I have a wide range of experience, combined with an understanding of how schools operate and solid relationships with school leaders. I am flexible, quick-thinking and good at problem-solving, even with limited resources.

What are your goals for the next year?

One is to ensure that 100 percent of teachers, administrators, support staff and substitutes have had multiple trainings related to providing the highest level of safety for each of our schools.

After training sessions have occurred, multiple opportunities will be provided to allow staff to practice with new skills and knowledge related to safer schools.

A second goal is to maintain the strong partnership between the district and the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office. The placement of a school resource officer at each school is a visible, concrete representation of the shared commitment for the safety of our children.

A third goal is to work with the district’s safety and security department, as well as the facilities department, to strengthen the perimeter of each school. While the needs of each facility differ, we must address the highest priority items first to limit access to our campuses.

How will your plan make Hernando schools safer for all?

Working with the Sheriff’s Office and SafePlans — a security consultant hired by the district — we have established an accurate and clear assessment of safety in each of our schools. Now we need to increase internal awareness of the determined vulnerabilities on each campus and take measures to address them.

What do you have to say to parents and guardians of Hernando students?

First, I would say that school safety is now, and will remain, our highest priority.

Second, I would say that the more staff that are equipped to respond thoughtfully, quickly, reasonably and safely to emergency situations, the better able we are to maintain campus security. The district is a team of 24 principals, 50 assistant principals, 1,500 teachers, 1,400 support staff and 24 school resource officers — and we will become a focused and powerful force dedicated to ensuring our schools are safe.

Sandra Hurst, mental health coordinator

Tell us about yourself. What makes you a good fit for this job?

I have been a school social worker in Hernando County for almost 10 years, assisting many students and families dealing with a variety of mental health issues. I have an understanding of the needs of students and families in our community and have built solid relationships with teachers and administrators in our schools. I also am a parent with a child attending a Hernando school, so I am personally dedicated to helping our schools continue to move in a position direction, creating safe campus environments for all students.

What are your goals for the next year?

I plan to focus on promoting positive interventions for school-based mental health services, as well as create awareness related to mental health concerns within our schools.

One of my goals is to increase partnerships and collaboration with our community-based resources to bring more services to the students of Hernando County.

My hope is that services will be more accessible to our families as we increase mental health education, awareness and support.

How will your plan make Hernando schools safer for all?

To make our schools safer, we need to promote and create both physical and psychological safety. Establishing school environments that encourage and support positive mental health, self-esteem, appropriate coping skills and mindfulness is a critical component of school safety.

It also is necessary to identify students who may be struggling with mental-health issues, as well as those potentially at-risk for problematic behaviors that could harm them or others. Providing the necessary support and appropriate mental-health interventions and referrals is vital to creating a safe school environment for all students.

4. What do you have to say to parents and guardians of Hernando students?

If you see changes in your child’s behavior, mood or demeanor, or if your child is struggling with mental-health concerns or behavioral issues, please reach out to your school social worker or guidance counselor.

There are resources available, and we can help parents connect with services for their child, both at school and in the community.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Hernando schools hires longtime principal as new safety director

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Hernando school district promotes social worker to head student mental health services