DCA District Spotlight: Hardin Public Schools in Montana

young children playing outside

In March 2024, The Jed Foundation (JED) and AASA, The School Superintendents Association, announced the selection of 15 school districts to participate in the District Comprehensive Approach (DCA) pilot, a transformative program that guides districts in improving systems of support for pre-K–12 students’ emotional well-being. 

This is the first in a series of blog posts that will explore each of the 15 districts and their work learning and leading powerful mental health and suicide prevention practices that will benefit students around the country. 

District: Hardin Public Schools in Montana

Number of schools: 7

Number of students: Over 1,800

About the district: Hardin is a close-knit farming and ranching community in rural Montana 

JED and AASA asked Tobin Novasio, superintendent of Hardin Public Schools, about the district’s participation in the DCA program. (Responses have been edited lightly for length and clarity.)

What is your primary reason for participating in the DCA inaugural cohort?
Like many schools, we are dealing with more mental health issues than in the past, and we’re searching for ways to better support our students and staff. Many of the youth we serve are proud members of the Crow and Northern Cheyenne Nations, and they have a long history of contending with the ill effects of colonization, discrimination, economic strife, unemployment, inadequate or unsafe housing, substance misuse, persisting health-care disparities, geographic isolation, and increased risk of mental health conditions. 

We are also at the center of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons issue. Too often, dealing with trauma is a way of life in our community, including the generational trauma our Crow and Northern Cheyenne students carry with them. One of our hopes for the partnership with JED and AASA is to make the resources we already have in place more systemic to support our families, students, and staff.

Explain why student emotional well-being is a priority for you, your district, and your community.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs tells us that for students to get to a place of strong academic growth, we must first make sure their basic needs are being met. This includes physical needs such as being safe, warm, and fed, but also social-emotional needs like being emotionally safe, loved, and feeling a sense of belonging. We can bring in the best academic programs in the world, but if our students’ basic needs are not being met, they will not be ready to learn.

What does participating in the DCA program mean for the well-being of your students and the culture of your district?
Participating in DCA increases our ability to access research-based support and gives us an avenue to continue conversations about youth mental health needs. We hope that by providing more mental health support for students and their families, we can positively impact students’ lives outside of our school as well — a possible step toward breaking the cycles of poverty. We also hope that we can combine JED’s best practices with our local tribal cultural traditions.

How does involvement with the DCA program impact public education nationwide?
Our needs and resources are likely much different than those of larger districts participating in the program. We hope to develop strategies specific to Hardin’s needs and available resources, with the goal that some of the tools might be applied in other Indigenous and/or rural districts nationwide.

Where do you hope to be one year from now on this journey?
We know this is a long journey and there is no overnight cure for generational issues. We certainly hope we will be making progress by having additional support in place and having candid discussions about the importance of mental health.


Get Help Now

If you or someone you know needs to talk to someone right now, text, call, or chat 988 for a free confidential conversation with a trained counselor 24/7. 

You can also contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741-741.

If this is a medical emergency or if there is immediate danger of harm, call 911 and explain that you need support for a mental health crisis.