Lawrence school board unanimously authorizes applying for grant that would put more social workers in schools

photo by: Kim Callahan/Journal-World

The Lawrence school board is pictured at its meeting Monday, April 22, 2024.

The Lawrence school board on Monday unanimously authorized the school district to develop and submit a grant application for funds to support students’ mental health, including the potential hiring of 16 social workers within the next few years.

“It’s a dream come true for me,” board member Carole Cadue-Blackwood said of the prospect of more social workers in schools to keep kids on track for healthy, successful lives.

The school district’s administration had recommended that the district submit an application to the School-Based Mental Health Services Grant Program in collaboration with Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center and other school districts in Douglas County, and the board voted 7-0 to do so.

The program provides competitive grants to increase the number of credentialed mental health service providers in schools. The district application proposes to hire and retain 16 “racially and ethnically diverse” general education social workers by the 2028-2029 school year, at the rate of four per year.

The federal grant through the U.S. Department of Education, if awarded, would also allow Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center to hire four therapists each year for a total of 16 new therapists working in schools across Douglas County, including in the Baldwin City, Eudora and Perry-Lecompton districts.

The district intends to submit its grant application on April 25, and, if awarded, proposed funding would start on Jan. 1, 2025, and last for five years. The grant deadline is April 30.

The team presenting the proposal to the board, led by Kiley Luckett, the district’s mental health coordinator, said it envisioned building enough momentum throughout the five-year grant period to make the program sustainable long-term.

Board president Kelly Jones cautioned that “the demonstration of efficacy” would be “a huge component” in maintaining the program after the expiration of grant funding. She noted that a different school board would be in place in five years and that keeping “robust” statistics on student mental health issues and financial matters would be key in the proposed program’s longevity.

In other business:

• The board, as part of its consent agenda, approved an approximately $1.7 million project to do roofing work at eight locations in the district, including Lawrence High School ($720,372); Quail Run Elementary and Schwegler Elementary ($390,331); Sunflower Elementary and West Middle School ($282,440); Langston Hughes Elementary and Southwest Middle School ($224,954). The project also includes a 10% contingency of $162,000 to account for unforeseen conditions.

• Heard a positive update on the Character Strong program from Cynthia Johnson, the district’s executive director of inclusion, engagement and belonging, and Luckett. Character Strong, which was rolled out last summer, as the Journal-World reported, is a social-emotional curriculum that has been implemented at each school in the district. Johnson, Luckett and others reported that the fledgling program has been largely well-received by students and staff, especially in the younger grades, and is undergoing further development.


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