Verona Schools Leading the Way
A Commitment to Mental Health &
Social Emotional Learning
Kate Fagan, ESPN Commentator & NY Times Best Selling Author of What Made Maddy Run speaks to over 800 Verona High School Students & Staff
Kate Fagan spoke to over 800 Verona High School students and staff during the day on April 1st with her presentation Split Image: Mental Health and Perfectionism in the Digital Age . Students had the opportunity to ask Kate and our school counselors questions as our community raised awareness on this critically important topic. The evening presentation was open to the entire public and was attended by over 250 parents and community members engaged in dialogue around mental health in teens.


In Fagan’s book, What Made Maddy Run , the author uses Maddy Holleran’s story to discuss the experiences of students growing up in a digital age. In her message, Fagan describes the pressures, both externally and internally, that Maddy faced as a student-athlete transitioning between high school and college.

Maddy’s story is not singular but a reflection of how many students are experiencing adolescence. Fagan describes Maddy’s life as a backdrop to examine societal factors such as the competitive pressures in school, concerns about self-identify, and the maintenance of social media. Fagan’s book was part of our school – wide summer reading choice and served as a catalyst for important conversations with our student body. Her book takes an honest look at the stigma of mental health and the split realities that adolescents often live.
Our school district is dedicated to upholding a healthy and respectful school culture consistent with our core values as evidenced in our strategic plan. The Verona Public Schools has made great strides to support social and emotional learning through the incredible efforts of our community action committees on mental health & suicide prevention and code of conduct & respect. There is more work to do and we hope you join us in supporting this important mission. A special thank you to our VHS Librarian Mrs. Mayo, VHS Lead Counselor Mrs. Gadaleta, and the Verona Public Schools administration for coordinating this valuable experience with Kate Fagan for our community.
Click here to learn more about the Madison Holleran Foundation or for additional resources from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) .

Verona Superintendent Dr. Dionisio participates in Superintendent Panel Discussion on April 4th at the Annual Mental Health Summit Conference
From left to right: Marta Audino (Hamilton), Dr. Rui Dionisio (Verona), Jerry Barone (Moderator), Dr. Rick Labbe (Sayreville), Nick Norcia (Fair Lawn)

A panel of education leaders participated on a mental health leadership panel. Superintendent Dr. Dionisio discussed best practice strategies that work, community stakeholder engagement, and leveraging financial resources to effectively address our most important goal in education today. Dr. Dionisio and Mr. Mauriello, Verona Director of Special Services, collaborated at the annual conference with educators, mental health providers, and community organizers in an effort to support social emotional learning. Other discussion topics included challenges school districts are facing, the four pillars of effective in-school mental health programs, ROI for mental health investments, and a deeper examination of autism.

Amy Kennedy, Education Director of The Kennedy Forum, Addresses the Audience as Keynote Speaker

Amy Kennedy, Education Director of The Kennedy Forum, addresses the audience as keynote speaker on the mental health crisis in schools. “Just as President Kennedy rallied the nation to dream big and set audacious goals 50 years ago, The Kennedy Forum seeks to set a new standard for the future of health care in the United States. The Kennedy Forum was founded by Patrick J. Kennedy in 2013, and is focused on advancing the current ideas, policies, and programming in behavioral health known to be effective, while shining a light on the solutions of the future. The Kennedy Forum seeks to provide leadership toward a common vision: improving the lives of individuals living with mental illness and addiction, and promoting behavioral health for all.” Click here to learn more about The Kennedy Forum.

What’s New in the Verona Public Schools
  • Implementation of new mental health programming at Verona High School and H.B. Whitehorne Middle School began in January 2019
  • Expansion of proactive social emotional learning in elementary schools with pilot Peakapak curriculum teaching social emotional learning skills such as self-regulation, team work, and empathy
  • Reallocation of counseling staffing to bolster elementary counseling opportunities for students through individual and group counseling sessions
  • Expansion of child study teams to provide necessary special education services for our students and families
  • Commitment to Positive Behavior Supports in Schools (PBSIS), a NJDOE State-supported program partnered with Rutgers University helping schools build systems of support, implemented by our staff at Verona High School and H.B.W. Middle School.
  • The Verona Public Schools partnered with the national non-profitPositive Coaching Alliance developed at Stanford University in a partnership to support training our coaches to provide all youth and high school athletes a positive, character-building sports experience

The Verona Public School district continues to improve education, communication, collaboration, and overall attention to mental health and social emotional learning within the school district and throughout the larger Verona community.

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