NAMI Minnesota (National Alliance on Mental Illness) presented Intermediate District 287 Superintendent Sandy Lewandowski with its Educator of the Year Award at its annual conference Nov. 14. The award recognizes an educator who supports children with mental illnesses to succeed in school, and includes families at the table.

Intermediate District 287 serves students with the highest needs for 11 member school districts in Hennepin County. All the students require special education and alternative learning programs, many have experienced trauma and a large percentage struggle with their mental health. Many have been unsuccessful in school and in danger of becoming part of what is called the school-to-prison pipeline.

“Sandy has testified at the legislature for specialized funding to provide a mental health professional in the classroom,” NAMI Minnesota’s executive director Sue Abderholden said. “She led her district to use alternatives to school resource officers by developing strong, trusting relationships with students and their families and by hiring staff who specialize in mental health, de-escalation, restorative justice and safe physical interventions. In the pilot school, arrests went from 65 to 12 in the first year. Now, across all four of its school buildings, the district averages just five arrests per year.

“Through innovation and dedication, and because of her leadership, District 287 now provides a trauma-informed environment designed to meet the high mental health and academic needs of its students.”

NAMI Minnesota is a nonprofit organization that works to improve the lives of children and adults with mental illnesses and their families through its programs of education, support and advocacy.

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