Transformation Waco will start providing telehealth services to students through a new partnership with the Waco Family Health Center in the upcoming school year.

The in-district charter system that partners with the Waco Independent School District will phase in all five of its schools over time, starting with Alta Vista Elementary School, said Dana Carpenter, Transformation Waco’s chief strategy officer, who gave a presentation of the new initiative to the Transformation Waco school board this week.

The new initiative to better support students and their families is still in the planning stages, but the idea behind the telehealth services is essentially to keep students in school, Carpenter said. Ideally, when a student says they feel unwell, they would be sent down to the nurse’s office, where they would be evaluated to see if they need to have a telehealth visit with a Family Health Center doctor. The student could see the doctor the same day, who would determine whether the student is sick and needs to leave school to seek further treatment.

“Our hope is to eliminate kids having to leave school,” Carpenter said.

When students go to the doctor, they usually do not return to school, even if they are well enough to do so, she said. Through the partnership, Transformation Waco will receive basic information from the Family Health Center to see if and when the student is eligible to return to school, so staff can encourage students to come back when they are well.

Transformation Waco school board member Melli Wickliff asked during the meeting what plans or processes the schools would have if a student develops COVID-19 symptoms while at school. Carpenter said that is something Transformation Waco is working on, creating a process to isolate potentially sick students until they can go home or to the doctor.

The COVID-19 contingency plans will be in place at all five Transformation Waco schools: Alta Vista Elementary, Brook Avenue Elementary, J.H. Hines Elementary, G.W. Carver Middle School and Indian Spring Middle School. But the telehealth services provided by the Family Health Center will only be at Alta Vista in the fall, gradually phasing in at other schools as Transformation Waco works out any kinks in the program.

Board President Malcolm Duncan Jr. said he thinks the partnership with the Family Health Center will benefit all students and families because of the center’s “holistic treatment” approach for patient care. Once all schools are part of the telehealth service, all students and families will be part of the Family Health Center network, which has 15 clinics in Waco, one in McGregor and one in Temple.

“That is a tremendous opportunity,” Duncan said. “That is something that they uniquely offer that so many other people we talked to couldn’t do.”

The program will be at no cost to Transformation Waco, but details of the funding were not yet available.

About 90% of students at Alta Vista are considered economically disadvantaged by the state, Transformation Waco CEO Robin McDurham said. The five Transformation Waco schools have a 97% economically disadvantaged student population, compared to Waco ISD’s overall rate of 90.5%.

The Family Health Center’s mission is to increase health care access and reduce disparities in health care for “the vulnerable of McLennan County,” according to its 990 tax form. The health center will treat students on Medicaid, but it also has an eligibility process for those who do not receive public assistance to provide them with low-cost or discounted primary medical, dental and mental health care, CEO Dr. Jackson Griggs said.

The Family Health Center and Transformation Waco “speak the same language” and use the same philosophical approach in that the health center looks at individuals first, not illnesses, Griggs said.

“When Transformation Waco talks about the social determinants of education, we’re thinking about the social determinants of health and understand that among the social determinants of education, access to health care is one of those social determinants that impacts education,” he said. “We’re really eager to surround these kids with all of our services and do everything we can do to maximize their health and their families’ health.”

Transformation Waco board member Dr. Iliana Neumann, who works at the Family Health Center, agreed with Griggs and said she believes this is an “important partnership.”

“Part of the reason that I’m even on the board is because I understand the important relationship between our kids’ health and their education in their schools where they spend most of their day,” Neumann said. “Given the current pandemic and all sorts of other plotlines that have come to light more clearly, it’s even more important for us to pool our resources together and build those bridges and join those partnerships that help us really provide the services that our community needs.”

In other news, Transformation Waco hired a new principal for J.H. Hines Elementary and promoted an Alta Vista administrator to assistant principal.

Transformation Waco hired Everette Taylor to serve as principal of J.H. Hines Elementary School, replacing Elijah Barefield. Barefield joined the staff of G.W. Carver this summer as dean students after his friend and colleague Phillip Perry, who was principal at Carver, died March 31 from COVID-19 complications.

Taylor has more than 19 years of administrative experience in Texas public schools, including 12 years as an elementary school principal in Aldine ISD. A doctoral candidate at the University of Houston, Taylor also has a successful turnaround record in Aldine, where he helped three schools increase their levels of academic performance. Aldine ISD named him principal of the year in 2012, according to a press release. He will start at J.H. Hines on July 1.

Amber Orchard will start as Alta Vista assistant principal in the fall, after working with the school’s Aspiring Leaders Program for the past year. She served as a teacher for two years before then. Prior to joining Waco ISD, Orchard worked in school districts in the Corpus Christi area for 10 years.

Brooke Crum joined the Tribune-Herald as the education reporter in January 2019. She has worked for the Springfield News-Leader in Missouri, Abilene Reporter-News, Beaumont Enterprise and the Port Arthur News. Crum graduated from TCU in Fort Worth.

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