School social workers help students and parents

CH-UH school social workers (from left) Josephine Shelton-Townes, Carmen Kottha, Faith Gordon, Alison Craig.

For some students, life gets in the way of academic success. School social workers are charged with reducing or removing non-academic barriers to academic success. As families prepare for the start of a new school year, Reaching Heights—a nonprofit that supports student achievement and teacher recognition, and works to connect the community to our public schools—asked Carmen Kottha to describe the role of social workers like herself:

As a school social worker, I’m taken aback by all the services and activities we provide for the students and families of the Cleveland Heights-University Heights City School District. There really is no typical day in social work. We constantly apply our skills and adapt our time to meet the needs of the various schools, students and families. We work with teachers, principals, psychologists, nurses and guidance counselors.

Every social worker in our district monitors attendance for excessive absences. When a student misses instruction, it’s difficult to learn, and a student’s lack of attendance often indicates other needs. Perhaps a student is missing school because of transportation problems, housing issues or the need for a winter coat. School social workers reach out to help families address any barriers that are impacting their children’s attendance and overall success.

As part of each school’s student assistance team, we find ways to help students who struggle with behavior issues and discipline, and create classroom management problems for teachers. Social workers help plan and implement academic interventions and create manageable academic goals. We complete referrals for behavioral health services, make home visits and connect families with community resources. 

All district social workers are credentialed with master’s degrees and clinical mental health backgrounds. We are state-certified and licensed to practice. We know how to assess and support students in crisis. 

School social workers help students and families who struggle with mental health, substance abuse, or grief and loss. Children and adolescents may need help with family strife, risky behavior, anxiety, depression, self-harm, peer pressure and bullying. We help create emotionally safe schools, facilitate peer mediations, and sometimes join a parent at the hospital when a child is ill.

Heights school social workers may assist with the logistics of state testing, and play a role in the special education identification and re-evaluation processes.   

We also support many extra-curricular programs, and helped establish Faiths Alive, an interfaith collaboration with local church and synagogue communities who adopt our schools to provide strong supportive relationships. Social workers ensure that the content of these community partnerships remains secular while assisting students and families in need.

The school social work department aims to strengthen the district’s working relationships with regional partners and connect with local mental health providers, children and family services, the Family to Family Collaborative and the Juvenile Court system. One of our school social workers is the Youth Mental Health First Aid Certified Instructor/Trainer for the school district. School social workers also created the Cleveland Heights threat assessment, and bullying policies and procedures.

Students and families should contact their school principal with any questions about receiving services from their school social worker. School phone numbers and principals’ e-mail addresses can be found at, or by calling 216-371-7171.



Carmen Kottha

Carmen Kottha has been a social worker in the Heights schools for the past five years. Most recently, she worked with the night school program and the Emotional Disturbance Unit Classroom at Heights High. She earned a B.S. in psychology from John Carroll University and an M.S.W. from Tulane University in New Orleans.

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Volume 8, Issue 8, Posted 10:01 AM, 07.31.2015