Schools receive grants for improving learning conditions

Grand View School Principal Larry Ben, left, is excited about the School Climate Transformation Grant the site was awarded by the U.S. Department of Education. Once implemented, it will offer additional service to students, such as Isaiah Teehee, middle, and Dakota Gessell.

Last fall, the U.S. Department of Education awarded School Climate Transformation Grants to 69 schools nationwide. Three schools in Oklahoma got the grants, including two in Cherokee County: Tahlequah Public Schools and Grand View School.

The competitive grants are to be used to implement "an evidence-based multi-tiered behavioral framework for improving behavioral outcomes and learning conditions for all students," according to the grant program's description.

Grand View School received $471,190, and Tahlequah Public Schools received $745,798. While the grant is for five years, the schools must meet goals each year to continue to receive the funds.

Grand View Principal Larry Ben is that site's project director.

"A multi-tiered system of support - MTSS - is something we all do in procedures, training, rules, and guidance we all need to follow," said Ben. "To me, I think this has a lot of potential. I'm grateful for the grant and the district for implementing this."

While Grand View may not have a lot of situations involving drugs, alcohol, poor attendance, or suspensions, there are less visible issues present in students' lives that can make it difficult for them to get educated.

"It's not always outward behavior things, like drugs, weapons or fighting. It could be issues, such as problems focusing, that are standing in the way of education," said Ben. "There's coping skills, studying skills, attendance - all kinds of things that tend to fly under the radar without an intentional system."

Ben said this type of system is designed for large schools that have a lot of students, and can help to prevent kids from falling through the cracks.

"At small schools it's not as critical to have a formal system. We know all the kids and their families. That's one of the advantages of being in a small school. We're in a good spot in that regard," he said. "For the small number of kids that need additional support, there will be counseling and behavior plans."

Some of the goals include trainings, implementing a positive behavior intervention system (PBIS), tracking statistics, increasing the number of students receiving mental health services, and improving attendance.

The first year of the grant will be training and new hires. A school psychologist, a project specialist, and part-time counselor will be hired.

"The project specialist will enter data, keep up with attendance and behaviors - see if we're keeping up," said Ben. "We're excited about the ability to hire people. It's a challenge to find qualified people. We were surprised and happy to find a school psychologist."

Training for teachers will be given so they can provide the MTSS. They have already completed a poverty training with a representative from aha! Process, which was founded by Ruby Payne.

While the school hasn't formally introduced the grant and plans to the community, Ben said the response so far from teachers has been positive.

"I've gone over the goals of the grant. They're in that wait-and-see phase they have towards any new program. But they will buy into things that are for helping kids," he said.

Another component is a districtwide PBIS team.

"The leadership team will look at the PBIS process and evaluate in terms of fidelity. That's a key component - how well it's implemented. The team will help monitor that," said Ben.

Ben said that with the additional funds and people, the school will be able to do more for its students.

"The potential is there for us to really do some good," he said.

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