Maynard schools chief advocates for those with mental illness

Maynard schools chief advocates for those with mental illness

By Cindy Cantrell GLOBE CORRESPONDENT, MAY 25, 2016

Although the last day of class isn’t until June 22, Maynard Public Schools Superintendent Robert Gerardi Jr. is already looking forward to reuniting his 300 employees for the celebration that takes place the day before every new school year.

At this year’s event on Aug. 29, he will discuss his involvement with CEOs Against Stigma, the statewide workplace campaign created by the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Massachusetts. Gerardi recently became the state’s first education head to sign on to the initiative designed to create a stigma-free work environment through increased awareness of conditions that affect employees and their families.

Gerardi said he learned about CEOs Against Stigma in February at a conference of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents, where the theme was social and emotional learning.

“It’s important to me to support my staff’s personal needs, whether they’re related to health, wellness, or family, so it really struck a chord with me,” Gerardi said. “A lot of data says mental health is a major issue that’s going unaddressed, but just because we haven’t addressed it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t.”

As part of the campaign, Gerardi plans to host the presentation “In Our Own Voice” from the National Alliance on Mental Illness, in which individuals share their personal stories of recovery in order to change attitudes, assumptions, and stereotypes.

In addition, Gerardi has pledged to provide information, encourage dialogue about mental health conditions, and examine the school district’s health and welfare benefits. According to Gerardi, the package currently includes a progressive employee assistance program that supports mental health along with physical well-being.

Already, Gerardi said, he has been struck by the number of employees who have thanked him for addressing the issue. He hopes it will help any employees who didn’t previously feel comfortable expressing their needs, but he is quick to downplay his leadership role.

“I’m happy to be the first one, but I think I just got lucky as the first one who noticed it,” Gerardi said. “I think a lot of others will follow suit.”

For more information, visit ceos.namimass.org.

Cindy Cantrell

Cindy Cantrell may be reached at cindycantrell20@gmail.com.

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