School services director sharpens her problem-solving skills with an MBA
When you’re supporting more than 70,000 state of Washington students in 44 school districts, there’s a lot riding on how well you do your job. Erin Riffe is the director for Behavioral Health and Student Support for Educational Services District (ESD) 113 in Tumwater, Washington. Her office supports students and staff in districts in Thurston, Mason, Lewis, Grays Harbor and Pacific counties.
“We provide grants, resources and partnerships for a variety of support programs such as after-school programs, tutoring and behavioral health services, including mental health and substance abuse programs,” said Riffe. “I’ve always been drawn to counseling and helping others and I love to impact children and help them be successful.”
Riffe has come up through the ranks of ESD 113, first joining as a student assistance professional 16 years ago. “I don’t forget that experience working with students,” said Riffe. In her current role, she’s responsible for big picture strategies, forecasting two to three years out to determine which programs will best help students. Data plays an important role in seeing which programs are working, and which ones no longer serve a role.
“We look at trends and use healthy youth survey data to identify areas of need,” Riffe said. “But what’s really important is to listen to staff and learn what’s missing, and listening to kids and families about what they need to be successful in school and life.”
Successful programs include a recovery support program that offers students who’ve struggled with behavioral health issues a place to go to gain support. Students may go on field trips, gain a mentor or be exposed to other resources. “It really helps these students sustain positive things in their lives if they’ve struggled in other areas,” said Riffe. “Providing this kind of help has been pretty powerful.”
Another successful partnership is with the Miss Washington Scholarship Program. The reigning Miss Washington provides presentations on media literacy, educating students about the ways alcohol and tobacco companies use the media to market their products. They’ve also given talks about leadership. “Miss Washington reaches kids who see this person as a celebrity,” said Riffe. “It really helps the kids be receptive to the information.”
Riffe recently earned her MBA from Brandman University’s Lacey campus, graduating in August 2015. She credits that degree with expanding her skills as director. With most of her earlier education in counseling and psychology, Riffe wanted to know more about business concepts and knowledge. “Everything I learned at Brandman, we were wrestling with at work,” she said. “Our cohort was also diverse, coming from a variety of occupations. It was valuable to learn different ways to market and strategize.”
Riffe now works to make sure her staff is supporting a common goal. In fact, you’ll find the agency’s goals and beliefs on its website. Her team is working to close the learning gap among low-income and vulnerable students, grow their people by providing training and development opportunities, and finally, influence change to provide education solutions.
“I believe having an MBA opens up doors in a variety of fields,” said Riffe. “But I am happy where I am, and committed to our vision of helping students here in Washington state.”
This story appeared first in FTE Magazine.
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