Laconia schools awarded $2.2M grant to target wide array of behavioral goals

LACONIA — The school district has been awarded a collaborative community federal grant that will bring about $2.2-million to the city schools to promote positive behavioral education over the next four years.

Superintendent Terri Forsten said Laconia teamed with Rochester and Concord to apply for the N.H. Safe Schools, Healthy Student State Program, N.H. Communities for Children grant and have been working on it for a number of months.

"This is going to make a difference," she told the School Board at its regular meeting last night.

The purpose of the four-year grant in Laconia is to provide support for the district's ongoing work in the areas of early childhood and court liaison programs as well as supporting student assistance programs, behavior models, and a health and wellness academy, said Forsten.

Laconia's primary agency support came from Genesis Behavioral Health — the regional mental health agency — and Forsten said she worked closely with Lisa Morris who is the executive director of the Lakes Region Partnership for Public Health, which partners with others to provide expertise, information, and tools to protect people's health.

Forsten said the district identified six goals for the four-year grant, including creating and sustaining a state-level collaborative cross-agency structure for sharing data and evidenced-based results and improving the social and emotional skills and preparedness for the educational success of children from birth to age 5.

She also said the grant will be used for improving the mental and behavioral health of children to reduce school violence, bullying, substance abuse, and other disciplinary problem by targeting the children with the highest needs.

Engaging families is key to the success of the program said Forsten and the program will also work to reduce risk factors such as alcoholism and drug use within families of school-aged children.

Board member Scott Vachon said he wanted to make sure the coordinator's position that will be created with grant funds will be one that doesn't supplant any existing programs or personnel within the district.

"I hope it comes with that stipulation," he said, making of point of saying that the $550,000 annually is not to be considered as part of the annual school budget.

Forsten assured the board that the grant would also be used to only develop and implement the program to continue beyond the four-year term of the grant.

"We have a great window of four years and we'll use the money to look at resources to continue," Forsten said.

Board member Mike Persson said he already sees a great deal of "cross-agency" work in the city and he is excited that the grant will bring more opportunities for that type of coordination.

"I hope you bring all the agencies in, like the United Way, to use and develop the program over the four years," he said.