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School District Gains Focus To Aid At-Risk Students
Students and parents of Magnolia Elementary school patiently wait to sign in before escorting their student onto campus. The official start of the OJUSD 2017-2018 school year was Thursday, Aug. 10. - photo by Teresa Hammond/The Leader

As is customary, the first school board meeting of Oakdale Joint Unified for the 2017-2018 school year was short, yet information packed. Schools were back in session for the new year as of Thursday, Aug. 10 and the board members gathered for their first session of the new year as well.

Called to order promptly at 6:30 p.m. Monday night, Aug. 14, the meeting was done and packed up by 7:15 p.m. at the Oakdale City Council Chambers.

Special guests Stanislaus County District Attorney, Birgit Fladager and Stanislaus Criminal Investigator George Papadopoulos presented the board with an update on the FOCUS (Focus on Children Under Stress) Program. This proactive student at risk program was first introduced to Oakdale schools in April 2016.

The Overview of the program listed on the website is: “The ultimate goal of the FOCUS Program is for children to succeed to the best of their ability, regardless of the environment they live in.”

Papadopoulos shared he first became aware of a program of this kind while attending a Drug Endangered Children’s Conference in West Virginia.

Three simple words used by first responders and communicated to school administrators, “Handle with Care,” caught the attention of the criminal investigator.

Papadopoulos walked the board through proper protocol from a law enforcement perspective when visiting a residence with a warrant for a search or arrest. It’s a procedure which might unnerve anyone, most especially a child. The investigator noted it’s customary for the agency to partner with Child Protective Services to assist with children on the premises. Often times the children return to school the next day after witnessing something which can be very traumatic.

Through the program the first responder on scene notes the child’s name, age and school and then receives the simple three word notification when they return to school.

“The school was notified, Johnny Smith, Handle with care,” he said. “That’s the only information the school gets and that’s all you really need.”

The three word code helps the teachers, as well as school administrators handle the student with compassion and understanding. It also serves as a heads up, if the student should act up or withdraw.

Oakdale, Patterson and Newman school districts were the first three chosen to pilot the program in Stanislaus County. From April 2016 to May 2017, OJUSD had 25 referrals involving 33 children. The program is now countywide and will likely go statewide in the next year.

From April 2016 to June 2017 Stanislaus County reported 112 referrals overall, with 173 students impacted.

“It’s incredibly simple and it’s incredibly productive, because I guarantee you any of our site administrators will tell you it’s good to know when we have a student who has gone through something,” Assistant Superintendent Pupil Services, Larry Mendonca stated. “Making sure the teachers know, the campus supervisors know to keep a good eye out for them.”

In other items of business at the meeting, there was nothing new to report from OTA or CSEA, Chapter #830.

OJUSD Student Representative Russell Pabalan was sworn in to office by Board Member Mike House.


The next meeting will be hosted on Monday, Sept. 11 at Oakdale City Council Chambers. The public portion of the meeting begins promptly at 6:30 p.m.