Lawrence school district awarded grant for behavior support; private schools expected to partner with district

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The Lawrence school district will aim to use a state grant to improve student outcomes, and the district anticipates that two local private schools will participate as community partners.

The Kansas State Department of Education selected Lawrence as one of 13 districts to receive a portion of nearly $6.2 million in federal Stronger Connections grant funds provided to the state, the district announced Tuesday. 

KSDE is awarding Lawrence Public Schools a three-year $532,509 grant, effective through 2026. 

District spokesperson Julie Boyle said the district will use the funds to hire two certified staff behavior support specialists to support administrators, teachers and staff in their buildings, as well as connect students and families to community resources. The grant is designed to improve the district’s equity focus.

“With an increase in student social-emotional, behavioral, and mental health needs post-COVID, the district will use these funds to provide teachers professional learning around classroom management and restorative practices, and support students and families with chronic absenteeism, student behaviors, and other barriers to learning,” Boyle wrote in the district’s news release Tuesday.

Boyle said Veritas Christian School and Raintree Montessori School, both private schools in Lawrence, will “participate in all grant activities, including professional development opportunities that may be planned jointly” as the grant includes a community partnership component.

Veritas is a classical Christian school, according to its website; Raintree is a Montessori program with no religious affiliation, according to its online FAQs. Both were founded in 1978. 

The district contacted several private schools in Lawrence, and Veritas and Raintree expressed interest in participating, Boyle said. 

However, Mary Woolery, Veritas head of school, said via email Tuesday that she was unaware of the grant.

Nicole Gusé, Raintree media director, expressed gratitude for the grant partnership but declined to answer specific questions about Raintree’s involvement until school administrators know more details.

“We are appreciative of the USD 497 in securing this grant and look forward to what this opportunity could mean in regards to the resources and further education of our staff,” Gusé said via email. “The objectives of this grant will no doubt benefit the students in the Lawrence community.” 

The partnerships do not require school board approval because the grant contributes to the district’s ongoing Safe and Supportive Schools work that’s covered in the strategic plan that the board approved in 2019, Boyle said. 

Cynthia Johnson, executive director of inclusion, engagement and belonging, led work to author the grant application.

Cynthia Johnson

Johnson wrote in the application that “the Stronger Connections grant will be used to build upon systems and interventions in place and to introduce new strategies to change and improve outcomes,” according to the district’s release.

Boyle also outlined the district’s goals with the help of the grant. Administrators are aiming to improve classroom management for teachers, decrease chronic absenteeism across the district, build a team to implement restorative practices at each school, intervene on student behavior concerns and better support marginalized students.

In the grant application, Johnson wrote that the district can achieve those goals by focusing on school connectedness, implementing mental health resources, disrupting systemic racism, amplifying student voices and several additional factors.

“We are certainly excited to receive this grant to support our scholars, staff and schools,” Superintendent Anthony Lewis said in the release. “I appreciate Dr. Johnson and other district team members who were pivotal in submitting this grant and our partners at KU who helped us tremendously with our application.”

Boyle said the district is “moving expeditiously to post these positions and hire the behavior support facilitators as soon as possible. Individuals with the required certification who are able to meet the position responsibilities are encouraged to apply.”

Boyle said in addition to partnering with Raintree and Veritas, the district will work with the University of Kansas Achievement and Assessment Institute and other community organizations, including DCCCA (Developing Caring Communities Committed to Action), on action steps.

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Maya Hodison (she/her), equity reporter, can be reached at mhodison (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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