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Grand Forks Schools uses $400K in federal funds to hire addiction counselor, social workers and behavior facilitators

Grand Forks Public Schools has used $400,000 in federal grants to hire a counselor, social workers and behavior facilitators to help children with substance abuse, behavioral health and emotional needs.

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Grand Forks Public Schools has used $400,000 in federal grants to hire a counselor, social workers and behavior facilitators to help children with substance abuse, behavioral health and emotional needs.

Associate Superintendent Jody Thompson and Assistant Superintendent Catherine Gillach announced Tuesday during a School Board meeting the hiring of a full-time licensed addiction counselor, three full-time social workers and a full-time behavior facilitator. In addition, the district also hired a part-time social worker and two part-time behavior facilitators.

The recently hired staff officially start working for the district this week, Thompson said.

The district used to get funds from Title IV, previously known as Safe and Drug-Free funding, but the funds for that program were cut, Thompson said.

When the funding recently returned, school leaders spoke with administration, social workers, counselors and outside agencies.

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"The unanimous consensus was we need additional support staff to help families who are struggling, students with social and emotional behaviors," he told the Herald. "I remember to this day one of those comments from one of those sessions was 'people, not programs.' So we have decided to invest our Title IV dollars into people who will help families in need."

The district previously had an addiction counselor, but the position has been unfilled for several years, Gillach said. The counselor mostly will interact with middle and high school students who are at-risk for substance abuse. She also will assist in implementing educational programs surrounding the topic, among other duties.

Having an in-house addiction specialist instead of referring students to outside agencies can get children the help they need sooner, Thompson said.

Grand Forks schools had eight social workers before the hires, said Tracy Jentz, communications and community engagement coordinator for the district. The additional staff means social workers can concentrate their efforts on a smaller number of schools, she said.

"Social workers are overwhelmed working with our families that are in need," Thompson said, adding that hiring additional staff will help alleviate the workload so they can work more efficiently.

The behavior facilitator position is new to the district. Staff will implement student behavior support plans and use resources to support student's social and emotional development and behavioral needs, according to the job description.

"Those positions are going to be invaluable when it comes to working with those tough kids," he said.

Congress assesses its Title IV funding every year to see how much it should allocate to states, which in turn distribute those funds to schools, Thompson said. In the last round, Congress increased the funding by $70 million nationwide, he said.

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"In a time when Congress is reducing programs and eliminating programs, we see that as a very positive note that we are going to continue to receive that funding," he said.

There was talk during the board meeting about what would happen to the positions if Congress decided to cut the funding and if the district could support the additions. Thompson said he would be shocked if lawmakers didn't support the funds.

"This is not an issue that is going to go away," he told the board when speaking about the need to help children with substance abuse and behavioral health. "The need for these people who we are hiring is only going to increase over the next several years."

Related Topics: GRAND FORKS PUBLIC SCHOOLS
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