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Consortium of regional schools receives $3.7 million school climate transformation grant

A five-year grant of more than $3.7 million from the U.S. Dept. of Education will support efforts to promote positive learning climates for students attending several middle schools and high schools in south central Washington.

The federal grant of $3,747,440 was awarded to a consortium of the region's education organizations that involves the Grandview, Granger, Mabton, Mt. Adams, Sunnyside, and Wahluke school districts, plus the Yakama Nation Tribal School, as well as the consortium’s lead agent, Educational Service District 105

The consortium’s “School Climate Transformation Grant” will help the participating schools establish an ongoing system of student programs designed to increase young people’s safety, promote mental health, and reduce bullying, substance abuse, truancy, and other anti-social behaviors.  The interventions in these areas are also designed to carry over into improving academic results for the students enrolled in the consortium’s schools.

Much of the work being funded by the grant will help establish or more fully implement the use of an intervention approach called “multi-tier system of supports” at each school.  This practice involves scaled procedures of one-on-one help and small group interventions addressing a student’s behavior, social and emotional needs, and absenteeism.  Schools are able to use a multi-tier system of supports framework to identify struggling students early in order to initiate assistance and resolutions more quickly.  This process of addressing social and emotional learning issues involves developing a student’s skills in managing emotions, setting goals, and making responsible decisions toward building a foundation for a student’s increased success in school and life.

The grant will fund the hiring of a project director/trainer and other staff who will conduct the program’s activities with the schools.  Staff will provide training and coaching to school educators in implementing the multi-tier system of supports, and in providing classroom curricula designed to promote positive personal choices that will facilitate stronger learning opportunities.  Staff will also be involved in facilitating referrals to mental health services for students being recommended for screenings.

“We’ll have a trainer who’ll be able to assist each school district where they’re at on their journey to full implementation of this process,” said Mike Closner, ESD 105 Teaching and Learning director.  “This work will take these schools to a deeper level of where they are now and help lead to greater student success.”

Work at the schools will roll out this winter with the staff trainings.  The grant is designed to generate an overall impact on 6,500 area youths attending the grant consortium’s schools.  The 12 school buildings involved in the project are Grandview’s Grandview High School and Grandview Middle School, Granger’s Granger High School and Granger Middle School, Mabton’s Mabton Junior/Senior High School, Mt. Adams’ White Swan High School and Mt. Adams Middle School, Sunnyside’s Harrison Middle School and Sierra Vista Middle School, Wahluke’s Wahluke High School and Wahluke Junior High School, and the Yakama Nation Tribal School.

As ESD 105 superintendent Kevin Chase points out:  “Elementary schools have been doing work in positive behavior intervention support for a long time.  This new grant will now help middle school and high schools get the resources they need to put solid interventions in place for their students and help them stay in school and to be successful.”

The project has several goals for the schools that will be benefitting from the grant’s work, including:

  • Having all 12 of the schools fully implement an MTSS framework by the end of the current school year
  • A 10% annual decrease in student suspensions at all the schools
  • A 10% annual increase on student proficiency in state math and English scores
  • Suicide prevention strategies implemented in each school during each year
  • Implementation of opioid abuse prevention strategies in all participating schools by next September
  • A 10% annual decrease in student opioid use, a 10% annual decrease in student alcohol use, and a 5% annual decrease in student drug abuse at each school

ESD 105 superintendent Kevin Chase added:  “What we’re trying to do is create a climate where all kids will feel safe and that’s academically challenging for students and staff.  We want to use this to help students build up positive behaviors that will then help them become successful in classes at school and for the rest of their lives.”