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Schools grant will be wide in scope

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Federal support to total $2.9 million over four years

By Vince Luecke

LEOPOLD - A nearly $3 million federal grant to Perry Central and Tell City-Troy Township school systems will deliver a wealth of services over the next four years. School officials also know they'll be expected to prove the funds are being invested well.

"They're giving us a lot of money; they expect us to do a lot with it," Tara Bishop, Perry Central's assistant superintendent told board members during a meeting July 9.

The comprehensive grant will pump $2,980,000 into the two school districts over the four-year period. Perry Central is the lead agency and fiscal agent for the grant but the two districts will share money for programs and staff.

In explaining the grant, first reported by The News July 2, to board members, Bishop pointed out the risk factors faced by both school districts mentioned in the applications for funding. Those issues included economics. As an example, the number of families with incomes that qualify students for free or reduced-price meals is growing in both school systems.

Over the past decade, the number of students eligible for free or reduced-price meals has grown from 21 to 28 percent in Perry Central's school district and 21 percent to 38 percent in Tell City.

The percentage of elementary students with a parent currently or formerly incarcerated was another risk factor cited in the application for funding from the U.S. Department of Education. At William Tell Elementary, School  9 percent of students had a parent who was or had been in jail or prison. That statistic was 13 percent at Perry Central.  

The percentage of students referred to juvenile authorities and the percentage of adults without  high-school diplomas were also listed as other risk factors.

Program Elements

The grant has five program elements, Bishop said:  promoting safe school environments; preventing the use of alcohol, tobacco and illegal drugs by students; supporting students' behavior and social and emotional health, providing students with needed mental-health services and promoting early childhood social and emotional learning.

No. 1: Safe Schools Environments

Grant-funded programs and services will strive to reduce the number of students who did not attend school for one or more days because they felt unsafe at school or on their way to and from classes. Another goal is to reduce the number of students who have been in fights on school property.

No. 2: Substance-Abuse Prevention

The second major element of the grant is straightforward, Bishop said, and sets a goal of reducing the number and percent of students who report using alcohol and marijuana in the past 30 days. The grant will also promote tobacco-use prevention and cessation.

No. 3: Student Behavior

The grant will strive to improve classroom-management strategies through the use of research-based principles and to grow the number of students receiving behavior-support services.

No. 4: Mental Health

Goals in the mental-health portion of the grant program are similar to the behavioral element with school officials working to increase the number of students receiving school-based mental-health services, as well as the number of mental-health referrals for students, allowing them to tap already-existing services within the community.

No. 5: Early Childhood Social and Emotional Learning

Goals are to improve social and emotional learning of young children through prevention and intervention services targeted to at-risk families. A secondary goal is to improve readiness for at-risk children through better preschool programs.

Action Plan

Achieving goals set forth in the grant will initiate new and expanding current programs in the schools at various grade levels, including an Olweus Bullying Prevention Program set to begin in Tell City schools this fall, as well as  programs such as Too Good For Violence  and Too Good for Drugs. Other programs will strive to strengthen families and extend after-school programs.

The grant will also fund a study of school security plans, minor remodeling to increase safety and the development of a social-marketing campaign to address alcohol, tobacco and drug use.

Other money will expand family outreach programs and provide on-site social-work services in all school buildings in the two school districts.

Staffing

A project director will be hired to oversee the grant program, along with five school social workers, a liaison with the probation department and two coordinators who will oversee family and community outreach and early childhood services.

Another coordinator will work under a contract with Southern Hills Counseling Center. Also funded will be after-school program coordinators and assistants.

About 63 percent of the grant will be used for salaries and benefits, with another 21 percent for contracted services. Six percent will go toward remodeling and smaller amounts for staff travel, technology and security equipment and supplies.

Community Support

The grant to the schools came about as a collaborative effort that involved dozens of community groups and individuals, including staff of both school systems, Southern Hills, Indiana State Police, Perry County Sheriff's Department, Tell City Police Department, the county's probation department, Crisis Connection, Lincoln Hills Development Corp., Perry County Emergency Management Agency and United Way of Perry County.

ACES Academy

An alternative education center in Dale picked up a partner in the Perry Central Community School Corp. as it moves ahead under a new name and under the management of the Southwest Indiana Network for Education.

The school board voted at its July 9 meeting to enter into a formal agreement with what has been known as the North Spencer Alternative Education Center, which has worked  to help former high-school students obtain the credits they need to get diplomas. Several former Perry Central students took advantage of the center's services.

The North Spencer School Corp. voted recently to discontinue funding for the center because of uncertainty in school funding. When that decision was made, Mary K. Cardinal, executive director, proposed a partnership that would assist the center in management of the facility and help secure funds to continue its services.

The center's name was changed to the Adult Center for Education, but will be known under its acronym, ACE Academy. The center will continue to operate in the Dale Community Center, a building that was formerly Dale High School.

During the past year, the center helped 46 students earn high-school diplomas or GEDs.

"It's exciting for us to finally realize that the services we provide to adult learners will continue," said Kevin Hunter, who will remain the center's director. "You just can't be involved in such a life-changing opportunity for adults and not become emotionally connected. The work that we are doing is so important. Now it's up to us to make the most of this opportunity and continue to work in cooperation with the local school corporations so that we may provide as much help as possible to those adults who look to better themselves and the lives of their children through education."

Board Reorganization

As it does each July, the board reorganized for the year. Larry James was re-elected president, with Steve Poole serving as vice president, Kevin Etienne, secretary and Tim Edwards, assistant secretary.

The board voted to keep its regular monthly meetings at 7:30 p.m. the third Monday of each month and to maintain board pay at the current $2,000 per year.

Tell City attorney John Werner will retain his role as school-corporation counsel.