Mental health positions aid MCSD students, families

Samantha Grippo

Stephanie Schmieder
Kim Brooks
Express Editor

While it’s only been a month and a half since the start of the 2019-20 school year, the Monticello Community School District is pretty excited about two new positions this year. 

Stephanie Schmieder and Samantha Grippo were hired by the district to serve in two roles to help the district provide better mental health support for the students. 

Schmieder is the new district social worker, while Grippo is the district K-12 school counselor. 

The hires follow an increase in mental health professionals throughout the Grant Wood AEA region, serving both urban and rural school districts. Students’ mental health is a top concern. However, professionals to assist a school district in this manner come at a price, and not all schools can afford to hire additional staff. 

That’s where GW AEA comes in. They’ve helped to launch mental health programs in over 20 schools, including Monticello and Anamosa. 

Both Jones County school districts have contracted to share both Schmieder and Grippo’s positions. While both are full-time employees, they split their time between the two districts. 

Each position comes with a salary of $57,500. Monticello Superintendent Brian Jaeger said the two schools were able to take advantage of the state’s operational sharing fund, which provided each district with $20,000. In addition to that, AEA helped to offset the salaries, too. So the actual cost for two part-time employees (essentially creating one full-time person for the MCSD) was around $11,000. 

“Not many schools share positions like this,” said Jaeger of the unique agreement. 

The MCSD was ahead of the game before AEA even came to them with funding assistance for mental health staff members. 

“We knew what we wanted to do,” said Jaeger of the employee profiles they wanted to see. “We had some really good candidates apply.” 

The MCSD actually started brainstorming possible mental health positions a couple of years ago, as mental health became a hot topic statewide. 

“What would work for our district?” proposed Jaeger. 

Last year, the three school counselors (Aimee Hospodarsky, Carmen Stenger, and Kathy Larson) got together, along with the administration team, to see what the district’s needs are. 

“What is mental health?” Jaeger said that was one of the questions that needed to be answered, along with the district’s needs. 

He said the school also needed to work within its budget in hiring someone to fill that role(s). 

“We wanted to hire exactly what we need.” 

Both new positions provide services in addition to what the school counselors and support staff provides. 

Schmieder offers emotional, behavioral, and social prevention services to the students and their families. She helps students develop and maintain responsible academic and social habits. 

Grippo supports the work of the other counselors by providing services to at-risk students and families. 

Jaeger said not every family has the resources or means to seek outside help for their children if needed. Having an in-house social worker, for instance, can help so many district families. 

He said the district would also like to tackle issues such as school attendance. 

“Chronic absenteeism is missing 10 percent of the schools days,” explained Jaeger. “That’s a lot.” 

Other student issues entail anxiety and grief, as examples. This is where Schmieder and Grippo’s expertise would come in handy. 

As needs arise with different students, Jaeger said they have a plan in place that would funnel students in the direction of either Schmieder or Grippo. 

“Kudos to the counselors and Robyn Ponder (district curriculum and special education director) for all of their work on this,” he praised. “We can build case loads (for the students). It fills the gaps we don’t have covered.” 

Both new hires work roughly two and a half days a week at the MCSD. The remainder is spent in Anamosa. 

Jaeger said while their roles within the MCSD might entail one facet of mental health, the two might be dealing with something different within the ACSD. 

“All districts are doing different things,” he said. “Every school is dealing with mental health differently.” 

While the MCSD could have hired outside resources/ companies to fill the needed mental health roles, he said the perfect match did not exist. Both Schmieder and Grippo fill those roles perfectly. 

“This is exciting stuff,” Jaeger said. “Everyone is excited about this. A year ago we hired a SRO (school resource officer) and now two mental health professionals. This is a great starting point.” 


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