Work already under way in Vancouver Public Schools to create safe and supportive learning environments in each of its schools got a boost this past week with the announcement of a nearly $3 million grant award over five years from the U.S. Department of Education. VPS will use the School Climate Transformation Grant to accelerate and expand its priority to improve student achievement by focusing on positive student behavior and school climate.

The SCTG is one of several federal programs designed to work together to help make schools safer and improve mental health services for students and young adults. VPS was the only school district in the Pacific Northwest to receive the competitive SCTG award.

VPS began a focused effort to improve learning environments six years ago as part of its strategic plan, Design II. Gains in student achievement were realized within one year after the district began using Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports at six pilot elementary schools. Since then there has been a concentrated effort to train district employees in PBIS and Response to Intervention practices at the district’s elementary and middle schools.

“This grant aligns perfectly with our strategic plan to develop research-based systems of support for creating a culture of respect and equity at every one of our 35 schools,” said Sally Charuhas, executive director of special services. “With this funding we now have a five-year plan to scale our efforts to secondary schools.”

The SCTG award not only puts the expansion of PBIS and RtI in high schools on the fast track, but it also will allow a greater focus on coordinating resources with juvenile justice, mental health, and the Department of Health and Social Services. In addition, the grant will make it possible for the district to offer social-emotional learning opportunities for students through restorative practices—alternatives to suspension and expulsion.

“We’re excited to see the integration of restorative practices with PBIS,” said Special Services Manager Bill Link. “The goal throughout the district is to teach common expectations, positively acknowledge students, and use data-based decision making to improve the climate and culture so every student can experience success.”


To help keep students safe and improve their learning environments, the U.S. Department of Education awarded more than $70 million to 130 grantees in 38 states. The Department made the awards under four new grant programs that were among the common-sense proposals included in President Obama and Vice President Biden’s “Now Is The Time,” a comprehensive plan to make our schools safer, reduce gun violence by keeping guns out of dangerous hands, and increase mental-health services.