Sumter School District earns millions in grants for mental health services, academic performance

BY BRUCE MILLS
bruce@theitem.com
Posted 10/11/18

Sumter School District will receive two new multi-million-dollar grants during multiple-year time-frames to address students' mental health issues and academic achievement.

District officials informed the Board of Trustees of the grants on Monday …

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Sumter School District earns millions in grants for mental health services, academic performance

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Sumter School District will receive two new multi-million-dollar grants during multiple-year time-frames to address students' mental health issues and academic achievement.

District officials informed the Board of Trustees of the grants on Monday night at the board's regularly scheduled meeting at Lemira Elementary School.

Assistant Superintendent Norris Williams explained the first grant is a partnership between the district, state Department of Mental Health and state Department of Education and is called the Advancing Wellness and Resilience in Education (AWARE) Grant. The district will receive about $500,000 per year in federal funding for five years to use additional local mental health therapists to provide intensive, therapeutic support services to students in need. A project manager will also be hired for the district for the five-year period.

Mental health programs will be administered in every school and in every grade level to provide interventions and support to children, Williams said. A goal of the grant is to help students develop skills that will promote resilience and positive social behaviors, he said.

Another goal is to develop an infrastructure that will sustain and expand mental health services for youth, even when the grant period ends.

The AWARE Grant is a total of about $1.5 million per year but will be divided between Sumter, Florence School District 1 and Anderson School District 2, Williams said. Through the five-year period, the total grant is about $8.4 million, which will cover personnel, training, services and supplies in all three districts.

In the second grant - named the Central Carolina Consortium for GEAR UP Grant - the district will receive $872,200 a year for seven years to help the entire current seventh-grade class cohort (1,240 students) increase academic performance and eventual entry into college. GEAR UP Grants are designed to increase awareness and readiness of college programs.

Lori Smith, a district coordinator, gave an overview of the award to the board.

The district will partner with area colleges, including Central Carolina Technical College and Morris College, to provide various activities and services to current seventh-graders in all the district's middle schools and R.E. Davis College Preparatory Academy. Support services will be provided to that cohort of students starting in January and go through their first year of college.

Activities and services will include tutoring during the regular school day and after-school tutoring to students who need additional support, student mentoring, summer programs to include college visits for students and counseling on college. Parents will also be involved in various services and activities, Smith said.

In the GEAR UP Grant, which is $16 million total, the district joined four others in the state. Smith said Sumter's annual allotment adds up to about $6.1 million for the seven years.

Board selects superintendent search firm

The trustees voted to select B.W.P. and Associates as a consulting firm in their upcoming search for the district's next superintendent.

The firm's team consists of lead consultant Kevin Castner from Charlottesville, Virginia, and three people with area ties - Percy Mack, a former Richland School District 1 superintendent; Frank Morgan, a former Kershaw County superintendent; and Mary Ann Blaskowitz, who also previously worked for Kershaw County School District.

Castner said Wednesday the team will make a presentation to the board at an upcoming meeting soon and will also host community forums in the future to gather the public's input as it works to help the board in its search.

The district is paying B.W.P. $25,000 to serve as its search consultant in the process.

A serenade to outgoing board members

Lemira Elementary School's Golden Steppers and the Percussion Ensemble conducted musical performances to open the meeting for the Board of Trustees and those in attendance.

In their performances, Lemira students serenaded and paid tribute to the board's three outgoing members - Vice Chairwoman Karen Michalik, Linda Alston and Lucille McQuilla - who are not running for re-election in November. Monday's regularly scheduled monthly board meeting was the final one for all three. There is one scheduled work session for Oct. 22.

Michalik served a total of 16 years on the board and previously the Sumter School District 2 Board of Trustees. Alston and McQuilla each served one four-year term as a trustee.

In other news:

- The board unanimously approved the allocation of about $2.5 million for capital projects as part of an already approved $8.4 million fall bond proposal. A total of about $1.7 million will be for a detailed list of district maintenance projects, and about $800,000 will be for Information Technology projects.

- Sumter County Relay for Life Chairman Shawn Reardon announced the district raised about $47,000 in this spring's countywide Relay for Life event, which raised a total of $105,000. Top-donating schools were Crestwood High School and Pocalla Springs, Willow Drive and Alice Drive elementary schools.