By Don Rush
In light of the tragic events on Nov. 30, 2021 the Oxford Community School district has created a new position to help the district help students, staff and the community. Since July, Todd Barlass, 52, has been in meetings with school administration getting ready for the upcoming school year.
According to the district, Barlass is the Executive Director of Student Services and Wellness, “a new position which was inspired by staff, parent and student feedback and part of our three-year plan to reclaim Oxford.”
“Oxford has great resources and systems already in place,” he said recently. “My job is to analyse all the systems, see where things overlap and streamline so systems can work more effectively for the mental health, social and emotional wellbeing of our students and staff.”
In a nutshell, the district works to get staff and students on the same page in understanding expectations and responsibilities and for students this starts in the elementary grades. Barlass said building relations with students is key for their growth. He said the district needs to have clear and sustainable systems that are definable and measurable, then “We do what we are saying we are doing.” Once the systems are structured and followed they can predict positive outcomes.
“If we have expectations, we need to be able to clearly define them so students clearly understand them. About 80 percent (of the students) get it on average. It’s the 20 percent we have to work with more. We need to look at the data – their grades, or attendance or some other trauma. We need to work a little more for these kids, build the relationships so they can start buying in.”
Each student has different needs and his department will work to fill those needs. Many times, he said, the restorative practices needed help provide students with their own voice, in their own community (classroom).
“Sometimes it’s simply circling the kids up,” he said, “To see how they are doing maybe 10 or 15 seconds. Let them talk. Or, it could be sharing their voice on an assignment. But, it’s all about giving them their voice. Once these relationships are built, it’s easier to resolve problems. Individually we can address how their choices may have hurt them, or their community.”
Another new hire this year, who will work with Barlass is Laura Azoni who was named the district’s Recovery Coordinator. According to Barlass, Azoni’s office will be in the high school. “Her focus will be to support students who need special, or greater needs addressed – more trauma focused,” he said.
Barlass also said the district is using therapy dogs in the schools to help students. “We are in the process of finding host families, handlers and staff to take care of these dogs. Laura will coordinate the day-to-day activities for these emotional support dogs.”
Barlass has worked in public education for 22 years, previously serving as School Social Worker for Port Huron Area School District, L’Anse Creuse Public Schools, Birmingham Public Schools, and Algonac Community Schools. Most recently, she served at the Multi-Tier Systems of Support Supervisor for Flint Community Schools in dealing with the trauma caused by the water crisis there.
He’s been married for 30 years to his wife Julie, who is also a high school counselor. They have four children: Andrew, 24, Austin, 22, Cameron 19 and 14-year-old daughter Carely.
“I’ve been humbled to be a part of this (Oxford) team,” he said. “The quality of work that has been done in this district is pretty amazing. I want to make sure it continues helping students, staff and parents. I look forward to contributing to what’s in place and growing.”