HeartMind e-News: Teach, Learn, Lead

A monthly publication dedicated to trauma-informed, compassionate school practices that help educators, students, and families move toward a sense of wholeness and well-being

Compassionate School Leadership Academy (CSLA): A Path Forward To Lift Schools Up

A Youth Mental Health Crisis

Today’s school classroom is not the safe haven it once was. A barrage of issues is finally taking a toll on both students and teachers. 

➔When it comes to educator shortages, The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) found that half of all public schools reported feeling understaffed entering the 2022-23 school year, and 69% noted that a lack of qualified candidates was a primary challenge in hiring educators (Camera, 2022). 

➔The COVID-19 pandemic isolated our students and destabilized their households, leading to an exacerbation of the children’s mental health crisis. The developing brains of young children seemed to be especially vulnerable to what we now know as pandemic-induced traumatic stress. (Medstar Health, 2023).

➔In October 2021, The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the Children’s Hospital Association declared a national emergency in children’s mental health (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2021). Death by suicide is now the second leading cause of mortality for children ages 10-14, and the third leading cause of death for those ages 15-24 (CDC, 2023). From March to October 2020, emergency room visits for mental health concerns increased 24% among children and youth aged 5-11, and 31% for teens aged 12-17 (Overhage, et al. 2023). Suspected suicide attempts increased by nearly 51% among teen girls in early 2021 compared to just two years before (MedStar Health, 2023). 

The Need for Diverse and Prepared School Leadership 

Motivated school leaders are critical to nurturing school staff and supporting students. Children of color, LGBTQ+ students, and students living in rural areas are particularly vulnerable due to discrimination and equity concerns and the lack of ready access to mental health supports.(Scherr & Mayer, 2019). However, the struggle of each child is unique, and educators need to be equipped with a deep understanding of their school’s culture to be effective. This presents a difficult task for school leadership, one that they cannot take on alone.

How CEI Can Help Your School Community

The U.S. Department of Education developed the Supporting Effective Educator Development (SEED) grant program to increase the number of highly effective educators by supporting the implementation of evidence based practices that prepare, develop, or enhance the skills of educators (Department of Education, 2022). The Center for Educational Improvement partnered with Yale University’s Department of Psychiatry Program for Recovery and Community Health (PRCH) to develop the Compassionate School Leadership Academy (CSLA) project, which has been funded at about $3 million for a year 3 project. Christine Mason, PhD a co-principal investigator with Maria O'Connell, PhD, co-principal investigator, Martha Staeheli, PhD; and Janis Tondora, PsyD are leading the project. 

The mission of the CSLA is to prepare school leaders in high-need districts to be culturally responsive and proactive in creating a culturally compassionate environment. Nearly $2 million will be disbursed during years 1 and 2 to support an immediate and direct response to the urgent mental health needs of American children by establishing a nationwide network of educational leaders trained in Compassionate School Practices (CSPs.) The CSLA combines over 20 years of experience in the delivery of evidence-based social-emotional learning practices in schools with CEI’s experience with school leaders and heart centered learning. One of the primary tools used in the development of the school plan is the S-CCATE, an analytical tool that statistically evaluates the culture and climate of a school.

According to Staeheli, the CSLA project director, "(this) project allows us to identify and combat the challenges students and teachers face and prepare leaders to create inclusive, identity-safe learning environments for their students and develop students' social and emotional skills from the ground up".


Looking Ahead

This year, CSLA researchers will work with school leaders to develop individualized school action plans for each school based on the results of their S-CCATE evaluation. School leaders can participate in monthly learning communities to problem-solve with other leaders as they start to implement culturally responsive and trauma-conscious practices.

The CSLA is currently seeking middle schools interested in collaborating.

Contact chrismason@edimprovement.org for details. 


American Academy of Pediatrics. (2021). AAP, AACAP, CHA declare national emergency in children’s mental health. American Academy of Pediatrics News. 

Camera, L. (2022, September 27). New federal data: Too few applicants in K-12 schools. U.S. News. 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2023, May 9). Disparities in suicide

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2023, May 8). Facts about suicide

Department of Education. (2022, October 11). Supporting Effective Educator Development grant program

Gardner, C. (2022, November 1). PRCH receives $2.8M grant to launch Compassionate School Leadership Academy Project. Yale School of Medicine.

MedStar Health. (2023, June 26). Research commentary: COVID-19 worsened the mental health crisis for young children, too

Overhage, L., Hailu, R., Busch, A. B., Mehrotra, A., Michelson, K. A., & Huskamp, H. A. (2023). Trends in acute care use for mental health conditions among youth during the COVID-19 pandemic. JAMA Psychiatry. 

Scherr, T. G., & Mayer, M. J. (2019). Supporting at-risk and marginalized students. In M. J. Mayer & S. R. Jimerson (Eds.), School safety and violence prevention: Science, practice, policy (pp. 121–147). American Psychological Association. https://doi.org/10.1037/0000106-006