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CCSD's "Nurse for Nurses" helps keep students ready to learn in challenging times

CCSD Director of Health Services Michelle Weinraub Michelle Weinraub found a specific professional calling, and she stuck with it through challenging times.

It was a direction and purpose that came a little later in life, after Weinraub had already graduated from college, married, had two daughters, moved from her native Indiana to Colorado and spent years working as a social worker. It was a calling that came after Weinraub had battled cancer, a fight that had reframed her perspective and outlook.

“I got cancer when I was 37. It was out of the blue. I had no family history; it shouldn’t have happened. My kids were 1 and 3,” recalled Weinraub, who now serves as the Director of Health Services for the Cherry Creek School District. “During that time, I realized that I had to do more with my work. I was happy with what I’d been doing, but I decided to go back to school.”

With the support of a loving husband and two young daughters, Weinraub enrolled in nursing school, and her ultimate purpose was clear from the beginning.

“When they asked the class about what field they wanted to pursue, I was the person who immediately raised my hand and said, ‘I want to be a school nurse,” Weinraub recalled.

For Weinraub, the prospect of becoming a school nurse held an appeal on multiple levels. She’d be able to specialize in multiple fields of care, establish an independent practice and, most importantly, forge relationships with students that would last for years.

Her conviction steered her through nursing school, and she soon found a complementary sense of purpose when she started looking for a post. She wanted to work in the Cherry Creek School District, and an interview with a then district executive director named Scott Siegfried in 2010 offered a route to that goal. Weinraub turned down an initial offer for a temporary grant position, but accepted a substitute position at Aspen Crossing Elementary a month later.

That position, which was at first only supposed to last for six weeks, turned into a five-year run that would ultimately lead to her current position as the district’s “nurse for nurses.”

Indeed, 10 years after her first interview with Dr. Scott Siegfried, who would become CCSD superintendent, Weinraub now supports the district’s corps of more than 75 nurses, 50 health technicians and the CCSD Medicaid and Insurance Outreach team. CCSD is the only district in Colorado that has a registered nurse at every school, and Weinraub, along with four amazing Resource Nurse Coordinators, plays a key role in ensuring that the operation runs smoothly and effectively.

It’s a post that’s only become more crucial and demanding in the past eight months, as the global COVID-19 pandemic has upended the very structure of learning in CCSD and the rest of the world. Since the first hints of the pandemic appeared at the beginning of the year, Weinraub and the CCSD crew of nurses and healthcare professionals have been at the front line of making district operations as safe as possible for all students, teachers, staff and administrators.

Weinraub notes that preventing and treating the seasonal flu has long been one of her public health callings as a school nurse. She’s long encouraged everyone to get their annual flu shots and focus on effective treatment. The pandemic has only made that priority more pressing for Weinraub.

“It’s been surreal for everybody,” she said, adding that the district started revising its pandemic plan as soon as the first news of the COVID-19 pandemic broke in February. “We’ve all watched this evolve so quickly. Our nurses have doubled their workload. They’ve all been so willing to engage in a new type of public health nursing, to keep themselves updated and to work even harder than usual. We’re asking a lot of these nurses and health techs.”

The district has become a leader in the state for its response to the pandemic, offering up-to-date statistics and giving employees dependable access to testing and information. CCSD healthcare professionals have played a key role in the district’s work, and Weinraub is quick to point out that the significant effort in fighting the pandemic comes on top of an already considerable workload.

“Our nurses see about 5 percent of students in a school on a good day,” she said. “They see them for daily medications and procedures, for chronic injuries, for mental health, for IEPs, for allergies, for asthma, for seizures, for everything that you could possibly think of. They keep our kids in school and they make a difference.”

That was part of what inspired her to follow the path to school nursing, a professional route that came a bit later in life, but one that proved profoundly meaningful.

“I miss being a school nurse in the schools every day, but I love the fact that I get to be the district’s nurse for all of our nurses,” she said. “Our job is to keep our students healthy and ready to learn, and we’ll keep doing it, even in challenging times.”

Posted 9/11/20 at 9:30 AM