Pittsburg Unified School District: Blending and Braiding Funds to Support a Continuum of Care

Pittsburg Unified School District, Pittsburg, CA

Photo Credit: Pittsburg Unified School District

A boost in LCFF funding allowed PUSD to expand Mindful Life Project’s school-wide programming to all 8 elementary schools in Pittsburg. As a result, all 5,400 elementary students are receiving access to Tier 1 universal supports and developing self-coping techniques to help students and teachers sustain their social-emotional well-being.

Getting To Know Pittsburg Unified School District

Pittsburg Unified School District (PUSD) is a suburban Pre-K to 12th grade school district in the greater San Francisco Bay Area serving 13 schools and approximately 11,000 students. Over 70% of the students in the district qualify for the free or reduced lunch program, 25% are English Language Learners, and 200+ are homeless and/or in foster care. One in four PUSD parents is not a high school graduate and only 14% have college degrees. PUSD’s at-promise subgroups experience high rates of truancy, chronic absenteeism, suspension, and the vast majority are not meeting grade-level core academic standards. To address these challenges, PUSD is embracing a community schools approach, prioritizing family engagement, building community partnerships, and investing in a broad continuum of social-emotional and mental health supports to achieve their Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP) goals of improved student learning, stronger families, and healthier school communities.

A Path To Growing Social-Emotional Supports

 In line with its LCAP, and to meet the continuum of student needs, PUSD is investing in multiple positions including family liaisons, restorative justice facilitators (for secondary schools), full-service community school coordinators at middle schools, Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS) and Coordination of Services Team (COST) Care specialists, and behavioral specialists. PUSD is also leveraging partnerships with community-based organizations and public agencies.

To pay for these positions and services, PUSD has leveraged a mix of grants, district funds and partnerships including the “Big Three” Medi-Cal Payors in Schools. Because each funding stream has specific requirements, PUSD has had to blend and braid funds to build a seamless continuum of services for students.

PUSD’s funding sources for social and emotional and mental health supports include:

  • Learning Communities for School Success Program, funded by Proposition 47 and administered by CDE, PUSD has recently renewed a grant that pays for staff to support the COST structure in schools in partnership with site-based community school managers.
  • Community School Partnership Program (CCSPP), PUSD received a $2.8 million implementation grant as part of Cohort 1 to expand their full-service community school model to two additional middle schools.
  • Contra Costa Behavioral Health Services, PUSD’s local County Mental Health Plan (MHP), provides mental health counseling to Medi-Cal eligible students through a contract with a community-based organization, Lincoln Families.
  • Contra Costa Health Plan, PUSD’s local Medi-Cal Managed Care Plan (MCP), is funding two mental health clinicians next year for the first time, enabling the district to double the number of therapists. This partnership is made possible because of the new Student Behavioral Health Incentive Program (SBHIP).
  • Local Educational Agency Billing Options Program (LEA BOP), PUSD also participates in direct Medi-Cal billing and contracts with a third party vendor to administer claims.
  • Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) dollars, PUSD has also invested its own LCFF funds to hire staff directly and contract community-based organizations to deliver services.

Supporting a Continuum of Care

PUSD has forged partnerships with community-based organizations and utilized the recent boost of funding in schools to deepen its work and expand access to services. One such partnership is with Mindful Life Project, a Richmond based non-profit offering whole-school mindfulness based social-emotional learning. In 2020, when the impact of the pandemic was disproportionately impacting PUSD students and communities, PUSD partnered with Mindful Life Project to pilot its program in a virtual format. The pilot grew to offering direct service programming at 3 schools and the next year, a boost in LCFF funding allowed PUSD to expand Mindful Life Project’s school-wide programming to all 8 elementary schools in Pittsburg. As a result, all 5,400 elementary students are receiving access to Tier 1 universal supports and developing self-coping techniques to help students and teachers sustain their social-emotional well-being.

Lincoln Families provides mental health support for students who need more intensive Tier 3 interventions, which is funded by a longstanding partnership with Contra Costa County Behavioral Health Services. In order to serve non Medi-Cal students, the district invests additional LCFF dollars into the partnership on a fee-for-service basis so students can have access to mental services, regardless of whether they are on Medi-Cal. Starting in 2025, Pittsburg (and all districts in CA) will be able to bill students’ health plans, including commercial insurance for qualified mental health services through the Universal Fee Schedule, representing a big shift in how districts may fund some health services going forward.

Committed and Stable Leadership

An essential ingredient to PUSD’s success has been strong and stable leadership with a commitment to prioritizing the social, emotional, and mental health needs of students.

Superintendent Janet Schulze has been with PUSD for nearly 10 years. She was previously with San Francisco Unified School District, where she led the implementation of the district’s equity focused strategic plan. PUSD’s Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services, Anthony Molina, is an alum of PUSD who has spent his entire 25 year education career serving in various capacities as a teacher, principal, and now district leader in PUSD.

PUSD has a passionate and committed Coordinator of Social-Emotional Support & Counseling, Dr. Tracy Catalde, who holds key external and internal partnerships. With a designated point person to collaborate with schools, build out partnerships, identify timely funding opportunities, and track the shifting landscape of the children’s behavioral health system, Dr. Catalde is able to weave together a continuum of supports promoting the well-being of students.

Key Takeaways

Effective Collaborative Leadership and Shared Decision-making: PUSD’s Superintendent regularly meets with a group of student leaders through the Superintendent Student Advisory Committee (SUPERSAC) to understand what key needs students are raising and hear their ideas for how to address them. PUSD also collaborates with school staff, including principals, administrators, the Parent/Family Liaison at each school, the district Director of Attendance, and Child Welfare and McKinney/Vento liaisons to align resources and develop tailored approaches to meeting the needs of PUSD’s most at-promise subgroups, such as their African American students and foster youth. PUSD also collaborates with staff from throughout the district, local partner agencies including Behavioral Health, and community-based organizations and associations to link site and community services, strengthen and sustain school-based supports, and build staff capacity.

Invest in Long-Term Partnerships: PUSD has invested in long-term partnerships with county agencies and community-based organizations which has provided continuity to students. Notably, they are able to serve both Medi-Cal and non-Medi-Cal students by providing their share of funding for students without insurance, while partnering with the Contra Costa Mental Health Department to draw down Medi-Cal funds. Additional partners include community-based organizations such as Lincoln Families and the Mindful Life Project. Through a blend of various community and government partnerships, PUSD is able to blend and braid funding streams to serve a wide continuum of students across Tier 1, Tier 2, and Tier 3 services. These partnerships were also possible because of PUSD’s long-standing commitment to prioritizing mental health and wellness across their district.

 Importance of Stable Leadership and Continuity: PUSD’s leadership team has embraced social, emotional, and mental health as a top priority and has worked diligently district-wide to identify and embed supports in schools. With the leadership of a dedicated Coordinator of Social-Emotional Support & Counseling, PUSD has been able to weave together a continuum of supports as well as identify funding opportunities over multiple years and build on partnerships. With the shifting funding landscape in children’s mental health, PUSD is well positioned to take advantage of these upcoming changes.

For more information, contact: Tracy Catalde, Psy.D., Ed.D., Coordinator of Social-Emotional Support & Counseling, Pittsburg Unified School District, tcatalde@pittsburgusd.net