Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz was joined by Deputy County Executive Richard Tobe, Commissioner of Social Services Carol Dankert-Maurer, members of the County Departments of Health and Mental Health, members of the Erie County Legislature, Executive Director of Say Yes Buffalo David Rust, Buffalo Public Schools Associate Superintendent for Educational Services Dr. Will Keresztes, President and CEO of Gateway-Longview Carolyne DeFranco, and administrators, teachers and students from Hutchinson Central Technical High School to announce the formation of a new partnership between Erie County and Say Yes Buffalo that will greatly expand in-school supports and services for students in the Buffalo Public Schools. Primary facets of the partnership include an expansion of mental health services available in schools and support for the addition of a Site Facilitator in each building to provide support to students, parents, teachers and administrators in addressing barriers to student achievement by first identifying those barriers and then connecting students with services to overcome them.
“Erie County is proud to partner with Say Yes Buffalo to invest in our future by giving our young people access to the tools they will need to succeed in life. This is a proactive, multi-partner approach that will identify those students most in need of enhanced supports and connect them with the help they need to overcome the challenges they face,” said Poloncarz. “As I said in my ‘Initiatives for a Smart Economy’ address earlier this year, building meaningful partnerships across sectors creates a blueprint for addressing our challenges, and that includes the challenge of strengthening graduation rates and preparing the next generation for the jobs of the future. By working together, we can provide a better educational experience and outcome for students, enhance their skill sets and employability, and diminish the chances that they will need societal supports going forward. This will be a huge win for our entire community.”
The partnership features a significant expansion of mental health services and clinics into school buildings, in order that any student who needs such services can access them easily, in their own school building, either before, during, or after the school day and without the need to regularly travel to an outside clinic located somewhere in the community. Satellite mental health clinics are already located in eight of Buffalo’s public schools, and the new partnership will locate more clinics and their services in school buildings where students and parents already spend time and feel safe, with an expectation that increased accessibility of services will lead to an increase in use. County need data will provide the basis for a committee of stakeholders from Erie County, the Buffalo Public Schools, funders, and service providers to determine how, when, and where the new clinics will be placed. Individual school clinics will be open for services based on the need at each school, with Erie County providing oversight to ensure all State and County regulations are followed and quality programs are being offered.
“As a provider of mental health services, Gateway Longview works with many students in the Buffalo Public Schools and their families,” said Carolyne DeFranco, President and CEO, Gateway Longview. “We opened a satellite clinic at South Park High School and saw immediately how just by changing where we located these services how much more they were used. We are excited that Erie County and Say Yes Buffalo see the potential of clinics like ours in the schools and look forward to being a part of the effort to bring this model to scale throughout the district.”
The funding model for these clinics and their services will not change, as the clinics will be compensated for their services by direct pay or by billing a student’s health insurance provider. Evaluation of the program will be informed by data from the Say Yes Student Management System, which combines social/emotional and health/wellness information from students, their parents/guardians and teachers with academic, disciplinary and attendance records to determine if a student is on-track academically.
The other key aspect of the new partnership is that Erie county will facilitate funding from New York State to support the addition of a staff member, designated a Site Facilitator, to every Buffalo Public School building. Currently, there are Site Facilitators at 34 schools, funded by the United Way of Buffalo & Erie County, Catholic Charities of WNY and Say Yes Buffalo. Over the next three years, Erie County and Say Yes will assume funding for all of these positions.
With the change in funding, the Site Facilitator position will also evolve. Currently, Site Facilitators are charged with supporting students, parents, teachers and administrators through identifying individual barriers to student achievement and then connecting students with services to overcome those barriers.
With funding from the county the Site Facilitator position will evolve so that each will also be required to carry a caseload of students who are identified as at-risk for child welfare or juvenile justice because of poor school attendance. This new role will strengthen the Erie County Department of Social Services’ ability to protect and serve at-risk youth by providing an opportunity to work with youth and service providers to connect students with needs to the services they need to be academically successful. In this way, the school-based partnership will provide more preventive supports to address at-risk students’ needs in an effort to keep them in school and on track to graduate so that they can take advantage of the Say Yes Buffalo Scholarship.
“The generosity of the local individuals, families, businesses and organizations that are funding the Say Yes Buffalo Scholarship and in turn providing hope and opportunity for thousands of Buffalo Public School students is what caught the attention of Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz,” said David Rust, Executive Director, Say Yes Buffalo. “Through this partnership, the County is demonstrating its commitment to supporting these efforts through providing quality and accessible services to students and families in the City of Buffalo. No County Executive in recent times has invested to this level in the Buffalo Public Schools, and the County Executive, and departments of social services and mental health should be commended for their commitment.”
Dr. Will Keresztes added, “The Buffalo Public School District is grateful for the County Executive’s leadership on behalf of our students. He has stepped in as a powerful partner with Say Yes Buffalo to make student support a clear priority. Thousands of students and families will be impacted positively by this partnership.”
The funding Erie County provides to support these positions is made possible by leveraging a funding commitment made by Say Yes Buffalo to cover 38% of the costs associated with the positions. The Say Yes commitment allows Erie County to access the remaining 62% needed from the New York State pool of mandated preventive funds. These NYS funding dollars are not currently being accessed for services in Western New York, and are not reallocated existing funds but rather a new funding source for these services.