Saugus district introduces its growing team of school social workers


As the Saugus Union School District welcomes back students for the school year, district administration introduced its growing team of social workers who will provide mental health support for students. 

Tonya Nowakowski, a student services staff leader for the district, gave a presentation Tuesday informing governing board members and the public about their team of social workers, as well as their roles across school sites.  

“Mental health is front and center of many people’s minds,” Nowakowski said. “As we welcome students and staff back to school, it was front and center for our minds as well.” 

In the past year, the Saugus district developed and established a new multi-tiered system of support to address the social-emotional needs of students, and their academic needs, according to district staff. Under the multi-tiered system, district officials outlined the addition of licensed school social workers. 

As this is a new support provider, district officials believe it is important to communicate these supports available to students, families and school sites.  

According to Nowakowski, school social workers are capable of numerous services including, but not limited to, providing therapeutic mental health services and expertise, coach on behavior or emotional coping skills and strategies, connect people to community resources such as therapy, medical, or other activities, support and work with the whole family, if needed or desired, and much more. 

Nowakowski said school social workers can also consult and collaborate with staff, and conduct suicide risk assessments for students and outreach with families. 

“That means they can push into classrooms and help students right at their desk, they can be on the playground supporting students in those social skills moments like hand ball and getting out,” Nowakowski said. 

According to district staff, COVID-19 exacerbated ongoing challenges for students and their families. Some families struggle with housing, getting food on the table, and more. 

“When we think about what students need to be ready and able to learn, those are basic needs like food, housing, health and safety,” Nowakowski said. “Social workers are well versed in what are the resources in our community.” 

Nowakowski said school social workers do not discipline or punish students. 

“The social workers are coming from a restorative place and addressing mental health from a trauma-informed perspective,” she said. “That disciplinary component, decision, is made in tandem with administration, but the social worker is not discipline.” 

District staff reiterated that social workers are not child protection workers. School social workers will not and cannot remove a student from their homes. 

However, school social workers are mandated reporters, like any other district staff member, which means if they hear or see any form of abuse, they are required by law to report it to the authorities for further investigation.  

Jennifer Soliman, a licensed marriage family therapist, who currently works at Mountainview Elementary School, said she’s looking forward to supporting students in the district. 

“I’ve been working with kids and families for several years now,” Soliman said. “I do have the education experience to help the current needs at this time. We have an amazing team.” 

As of now, the school social workers team consists of seven members, and the district is seeking to hire two more social workers. Each member brings a wide range of qualifications and breadth of knowledge to better support students, according to district officials.  

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