Key grant for schools ends in June

    Officials at the three Adams County school districts, with some assistance from the private sector, have successfully stretched a four-year federal Safe Schools/Healthy Students grant into its fifth year. But by June of 2013 those federal funds will have dried up, leaving local school administrators with some difficult decisions about which programs will continue, and how to pay for those services.
    Kim Fullove, countywide Safe Schools/Healthy Students coordinator, appeared at Tuesday's North Adams school board meeting to tell board members of the many successes of the program and the accomplishments made by students during the four-year life of the grant.
    The Safe Schools/Healthy Students (SS/HS) is a grant program funded by the United States Department of Education, United States Department of Justice, and United States Department of Health and Human Services that helps school districts, in partnership with mental health providers, law enforcement and juvenile justice agencies, implement projects that create safe and healthy schools and communities.
    The initiative focuses on creating safe school environments and violence prevention activities, substance abuse prevention training, student behavioral, social and emotional supports, mental health services and early childhood social and emotional learning programs.
    Fullove said a four-year grant of approximately $3 million has funded the Safe Schools/Healthy Students programming at North Adams, Adams Central and South Adams schools since 2008.
    "This is the fifth year of the grant, but because there was some unused funding left over from the first four years, we've been able to continue the programming," Fullove said. An anonymous donor, she said, has supplemented the grant by agreeing to pay the cost of a school resource officer, or school campus policeman, as well as the cost of behavioral health services.
    "The grant ends June 30, and we are in the process of looking at options and alternatives" to continue many of the programs, Fullove said.
    Among the key components of the Safe Schools/Healthy Students programming in Adams County, said Fullove, are a bullying prevention program, the RISQ program which serves as an alternative to out-of-school suspensions, and enhanced mental health and early childhood behavioral supports.
    Since the programs began in 2008, Fullove said, North Adams school officials have seen the number of suspensions for fighting fall from 5.8 percent of the middle and high school population to 2 percent last year. During that same time, the number of reported incidents of bullying and in-school fighting have also decreased significantly, she said, while the total number of North Adams students being referred to or accessing mental health services has climbed steadily.
    Fullove said ISTEP scores of North Adams students have also shown a "dramatic increase" since 2008.
    North Adams Superintendent of Schools Dr. Wylie Sirk said the first four years of the grant have allowed school officials to take advantage of training for programs "that are now part of our culture." Sirk said the Safe Schools/Healthy Students endeavor "has changed our thinking of how we deal with some of these issues."
    Board members recommended additional discussion about which programs should continue to be offered upon the grant's expiration, and how those programs would be funded.