UA Helps Rural School District Receive $2.8 Million Federal Grant

  • November 26th, 2019

Thanks to help from The University of Alabama, Choctaw County Schools was awarded a $2.8 million 2019 School Climate Transformation Grant from the U.S. Department of Education.


Two UA researchers stand with a Choctaw County School representative.
Dr. Sara McDaniel (left), Choctaw County School System Federal Programs Director Angela Phillips (middle) and Dr. Holly Morgan.

Dr. Sara McDaniel, UA associate professor of special education and executive director of Alabama Positive Behavior Support Office, said the grant amount is the largest awarded to an Alabama school system in the five years of the grant’s existence.

“They’re the third district in the state to ever receive this federal grant, and this is the largest grant amount by far,” McDaniel said. “St. Clair County was awarded a one-year grant in 2014, and Birmingham City Schools got a $750,000 grant for five years.

“With the grant, you can receive $750,000 for five years or up to $3 million. We went big and got $2.8. We decided that the Choctaw community itself needs a lot of support, and if this was a resource that could go to them, we would go for it all.”

According to the U.S. Department of Education, the competitive grant was created to develop, enhance and expand systems of support to local schools implementing an evidence-based multi-tiered behavioral framework for improving behavior and learning conditions for all students.

Dr. Holly Morgan, director of the UA/UWA Regional In-Service Center based in UA’s College of Education, said the grant was awarded in October and will provide a project coordinator, a statewide provider for professional development (UA’s Dr. Anneliese Bolland), a mental health therapist for every school, case managers and a drug prevention program. These individuals will be trained by the UA Alabama Positive Behavior Support Office.

The University will be partnered with Choctaw County Schools for the duration of the five-year grant.

UA got involved when McDaniel noticed that not many Alabama school districts had previously applied for the School Climate Transformation Grant. So, she reached out to several people, including Morgan.

She asked Morgan for recommendations of rural school districts that could use the grant and would be interested in applying. Morgan contacted several in-state school districts that qualified for the grant, and Choctaw responded with interest.

“Holly had already been in touch with Choctaw, and we decided that Choctaw would be great for this,” McDaniel said. “We put our minds together and helped them apply. I don’t think they’ve ever gotten this much federal funding.”

Morgan said the In-Service Center was glad to assist Choctaw with the grant because their mission is to train and support schools.

“One of our needs assessments is to support socio-emotional behavior strategies, and this does that,” Morgan said.

McDaniel said she’s excited for Choctaw and looks forward to helping their district and its students progress.

“Usually when we work with school districts, they’re piecing together funding from somewhere else. But, they don’t have to take the money from any other pot now. They can just take this money from the grant and get the support that they need.”

The University of Alabama, the state’s oldest and largest public institution of higher education, is a student-centered research university that draws the best and brightest to an academic community committed to providing a premier undergraduate and graduate education. UA is dedicated to achieving excellence in scholarship, collaboration and intellectual engagement; providing public outreach and service to the state of Alabama and the nation; and nurturing a campus environment that fosters collegiality, respect and inclusivity.