CMS awarded national research grant

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools has been chosen to receive a research grant from the National Institute of Justice to study how to improve academic outcomes for African-American males and support school safety. CMS will use the grant, which is just under $2 million, to work with nonprofit partner Research Triangle Institute to develop and launch a Comprehensive Culturally Responsive Behavior Intervention program.

The three-year study will begin during the 2018-2019 school year with the goal of identifying ways to help all students, particularly African-American males, succeed in school. It will be introduced at 10 high schools and affect more than 20,000 students.

"This is great news for CMS and all of our students, especially our black males," said Dr. Clayton Wilcox, superintendent. "Nationally and in CMS, we have seen our African-American male students historically underperforming academically and having disproportionately high rates of suspension and expulsion. The NIJ grant will allow us to find the best ways to change that dynamic and ensure that all students can succeed."

The grant will support a Comprehensive Culturally Responsive Behavior Intervention program that will use evidence-based practices in the area of behavior support, interpersonal relationships and academic engagement.

"What we learn in this three-year study will not help only CMS students," Dr. Wilcox said. "It will also inform the national conversation on success for all students and all schools. The root causes of the disproportionate rate of suspensions and expulsions for African-American males, and their lower success rates in school, have not been fully identified. This grant will help us discern the reasons for the disparity and what can be done to address them."

The grant will be used to support high school staff, students and their families so they work together to create a supportive, nurturing school environment for all stakeholders. CMS has used Positive Behavior Intervention and Support practices for several years and the grant will blend those existing practices with innovative ways to build interpersonal relationships and increase academic engagement.

In the 2018-2019 school year, high school staff will receive professional development and support to help ninth-grade students adjust to high school. The following year, those staff members will work with the same students as they enter 10th grade. Parents of high school students will also receive coaching to increase knowledge of campus involvement, adolescent parenting skills and student advancement.

The grant announcement noted that CMS and Research Triangle International had created a strong research design that will address any problems that could arise as the plan is put into action.

"Specifically, the combination of Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) with restorative and culturally responsive practices may reduce violence in schools and prevent youth from involvement in the criminal justice system," the announcement said. "Research Triangle International will collaborate with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools to evaluate the implementation, outcomes, and cost-benefit of a unique, whole-school program called Comprehensive Culturally Responsive Behavior Intervention designed to reduce disparities in discipline and improve school safety."

Research Triangle International is a Durham-based independent nonprofit institute. It provides research, development and technical services to government and commercial clients around the world.