Superintendent Interview Series

Communication & Collaboration: A Conversation with Superintendent Dr. Trevor Greene, Yakima School District


Daybreak Health CEO Alex Alvarado talks to Superintendents from across the country to discuss topics and trends affecting their school communities like chronic absenteeism, student mental health, academic outcomes, and more. These Superintendents represent districts from urban to rural, large to small, and range in their minority enrollment and number of students who are economically disadvantaged. Our goal is to capture different voices and perspectives on the challenges facing our schools today.

Communication & Collaboration:A Conversation with Superintendent Dr. Trevor Greene, Yakima School District

In our recent interview, Yakima School District Superintendent Dr. Trevor Greene shared his unwavering commitment to amplifying student voices, collaborating with community partners, and prioritizing mental health support. 

A Commitment To Communication

As a career educator, Dr. Greene’s approach to leading his district boils down to being flexible and prepared: “Every day is kind of an adventure and I spend a large amount of time making sure that I'm communicating as well as I can.” This ethos is particularly important when approaching concerns such as Yakima’s $20 million deficit. It’s not a problem unique to Yakima, but is reflective of a broader trend across large-sized districts in Washington state: unfunded mandates and budgetary constraints have critically strained resources for years. Though the budget shortfall is, as Dr. Greene points out, “anxiety-inducing”, he sees it as an opportunity to communicate early and often with the district’s staff and families, thereby creating a culture of transparency and clarity. 

Over the last few months, Dr. Greene has also focused on rallying support for a tax levy that will help close the budget gap. The passage of the levy, with a remarkable 65% majority in a district with historically low voter turnout, was a significant achievement. “We have the lowest voter turnout in the state of Washington, which makes it very challenging,” said Dr. Greene. “And we're in a very high poverty area. So when you're talking about taxing yourself, taxing property values to support public education, then I take that as a vote for or against public education. To have a super majority passage of 65% … speaks well of how we're perceived in the community. So right now we have I believe a good statement indicator of how we're performing overall.” 

Dr. Greene emphasized the need for communication when it comes to district-wide issues, citing a goal the district is calling ‘community commitments’. The district has five community commitments that serve as a north star in dealing with the most pervasive issues the district faces, such as absenteeism. “We have specific attendance goals and what I do is I analyze those on a biweekly basis. We started out for about 2 months just sending that information to principals and having the conversations with principals, and then gradually we started sharing that information out collectively. So now it's an expectation of our entire workforce that they will get an update every two weeks.” Dr. Greene explained that this type of information can be very powerful in the hands of district teachers and administrators, because it gives them a frame of reference and allows for more holistic conversations around attendance and engagement. By empowering stakeholders with data and fostering a culture of accountability, the district aims to improve attendance rates and support student success.

Leveraging Community Connections 

Dr. Greene says that his district often taps into its community network to better address students’ needs. He highlighted the district’s partnership with the local police department as an innovative example. Dr. Greene receives daily notifications of police actions involving students, which provide invaluable insights into the challenges students may be facing outside the classroom. “Our police department actually notifies our safety and security director every day when there is a police action or a call to the home of one of our students,” he said, explaining that the safety and security director then informs individual principals and counselors, and teachers. “We have counseling support ready and we have teachers in the classroom that are … observing the individual and looking for indications that they might be impacted. [If they are] we bring in more professional support in the form of our counselors and our social workers.” 

By leveraging their community connections, the district is able to offer targeted support to those most in need. Dr. Greene emphasized that this approach has been both helpful and eye-opening – he said that between five and twenty Yakima district students are impacted each day by violence in their home. In order for the district to promote student wellbeing and academic success, a spirit of collaboration and care is necessary from all stakeholders including educators, law enforcement, administrators, and parents. 

The Importance of Listening to Student Voices

The conversation then shifted to the crucial topic of mental health: “I don't think that you could find a superintendent or a principal who would say that there is not a connection between mental health and outcomes.” Dr. Greene went on to discuss the district’s philosophy around mental health and student support, citing the community program with the police department as an example. “We would have never known [about a student who had seen police action the previous evening] before, but now we have a system in place where we are flagged and we are paying more attention. We need to do things to help us in our own system. We look at incorporating those mental health supports within our school-based framework.” 

Dr. Greene explained that the district uses tiered supports for students. Tier one includes trauma-informed universal supports such as SEL curriculums, restorative classroom practices, and positive behavioral interventions, which are used for all students. Tier 2 includes specific interventions that target based on needs. That might look like a smaller group instruction. Mentoring. Brief counseling sessions. Community circles. Meetings to focus more intently on addressing conflict and promoting community healing. Tier 3 is the more intensive interventions around therapeutic counseling and re-entry reintegration meetings. Regardless of their needed interventions, Dr. Green said, students “need and deserve to have their needs addressed.”

In a diverse student body, each voice carries unique insights and experiences that are invaluable in shaping effective solutions. Dr. Greene recounted a conversation with Frank DeAngelis, the former principal of Columbine High School, which sparked a profound realization. "I was talking to the wrong students," DeAngelis told him. Dr. Greene realized that he needed to understand the perspectives of all of his students, and decided to form a student voice council, wherein dozens of students meet to discuss and suggest initiatives to the district. The council is based on the principle of co-design, a collaborative approach that involves students in the process of identifying problems and crafting solutions. Traditional top-down approaches often fall short in addressing the nuanced needs of students, leading to disconnected initiatives and missed opportunities for meaningful change. By engaging students as partners in the design process, schools can foster a culture of inclusivity and empowerment, where every voice is heard and valued.

The students themselves advocate for greater mental health resources, leading to the implementation of programs such as a dedicated Mental Health Week. Dr. Greene emphasized that mental health support must be woven into the fabric of school culture, not treated as an afterthought or add-on: “There's no substitute for knowing students by name, strength, and need.”

By embracing a student-centered approach to mental health support, Dr. Greene proves that districts can create nurturing environments where every student feels seen, heard, and supported on their journey to success. 

Downloadable Content

The State of Youth Mental Health & Our Schools

How schools are responding to the rising demand for student mental health services.