Dalio Foundation grant funds mental health clinicians at 5 New Haven schools
New Haven Register - 10/1/2018
Oct. 01--NEW HAVEN -- A private foundation with a recent history of funding programs in the city's schools announced a $965,000 grant to pay for full-time mental health clinicians at five schools this month.
For four years, the Dalio Foundation, the family foundation of Bridgewater Associates founder Ray Dalio and wife, Barbara, has awarded a grant to New Haven schools to pay for clinicians from the Clifford W. Beers Guidance Clinic. Bishop Woods School, Truman School, Wexler Grant School, Career High School and High School in the Community will receive clinicians.
"The mental health of our students is the most fundamental prerequisite for their well-being and education, and for that reason, the collaboration with New Haven Public Schools and Clifford Beers is very important to me," said Barbara Dalio in a statement.
The grant comes at a time when over a dozen school counselors lost their jobs in layoffs, while the school district faces down a projected deficit of over $8 million. At a recent community meeting, a parent from John C. Daniels School asked Superintendent of Schools Carol Birks if she would reinstate school counselors to the district in lieu of social workers.
Birks said she is "not bending" on the decision to hire social workers in the schools because of their specialized training. She also explained to the audience of that community meeting at the Atwater Senior Center that certain salaries are paid by operating fund dollars, whereas other workers are paid through grant funding.
"Our teachers see firsthand the effects of adversity, trauma and stress on our students. They know that these factors have the potential to negatively impact a child's ability to achieve and be successful in school. Our collaboration with the Dalio Foundation and Clifford Beers benefits both students and teachers, helping us to create a supportive learning environment to bolster students' affective growth and development and social emotional well-being," Birks said in a statement.
Alice Forrester, CEO of Clifford Beers, said the clinic's approach focuses on "the holistic needs of the whole child and families" and leverages community resources in a statement. Dave Cicarella, president of the New Haven Federation of Teachers, also said in a statement that his union welcomes the social workers "as we work together to support our students."
The Dalio Foundation reports that it has contributed more than $3,000,000 in grant funding since 2015 for social workers in New Haven schools.
Additionally, the Dalio Foundation has supported a data-driven program called the RISE Network in several school districts in the state, including Career High School. Some members of the community have expressed cynicism about the program's use of student data, although it appears some of those concerns have been assuaged somewhat.
Parent Jill Kelly, a volunteer with a grassroots education-focused community group called NHPS Advocates, said she would like to see the school district commit more of its resources to protecting student data, but she felt officials with the RISE Network had been transparent about data agreements in private meetings.
"We found the requirement to provide an opt-out form for parents really lies with the district, so it's up to the district to decide whether they should allow parents to opt out," Kelly told the school board on Monday at a meeting.
Mayor Toni Harp, who has become an advocate for the RISE Network, initially expressed concerns about the sustainability of Dalio-funded projects at a committee meeting after seeing a presentation. What if the Dalio Network moved onto other philanthropic interests beyond urban education, she wondered.
At last week's school board meeting, officials with RISE did a brief presentation on the program for the first time in front of the full school board. Birks thanked RISE Director Emily Pallin for giving the presentation and suggested that Pallin repeat how grateful the school district is for the program to the Dalio Foundation.
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