Update from DPS Exceptional Student Services

Aug. 24, 2023
Denver Public Schools Logo

Dear Team DPS/DPS Community,

Over the past few years Denver Public Schools has allocated significant resources to support the mental health of our students and staff. As we begin the 2023-24 school year it is a good time to remind our DPS community of the vast mental health resources available to our students and staff as well as reflect upon the recent successes of the Department of Mental Health.

Our Financial Commitment to Mental Health

It is often said that you can truly see what an organization values based upon how their budget is allocated. In the fiscal year 2024 budget, $82,300,000 (slide 38) out of a total districtwide general fund budget of $1,334,007,000 (6.17% of the total general fund) was allocated for mental health support.

The $82.3M includes Special Service Providers (SSPs), school counselors, Behavior and Emotional Screening Systems and transformative social and emotional learning. This number doesn’t include salaries for the Central Office mental health leadership team, or other DPS supports that could be considered more broadly in benefitting mental health (Parent Teacher Home Visits, Community Hubs, etc.) 

Additionally, the $82.3M is only the general fund allocation. There is also spending, which comes from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) and other grants. For example, on slide 18 of the FY24 Proposed budget deck, $52.4M is budgeted in ESSER FY 2021-24 for Student and Staff Well-being, including the Mental Health Pilot Program. DPS also received $32 million from the 2020 Bond for mental health, nursing and special education programs. 

The DPS Mental Health Team

The DPS Department of Mental Health has approximately 430 mental health providers licensed by the Colorado Department of Education (CDE) as SSPs with endorsements in school social work or school psychology. Our social workers and school psychologists are highly skilled, trauma-informed and culturally-competent experts in student behavior, mental health, social/emotional intervention and special education. These team members are key leaders in relentlessly dismantling systems of oppression in their buildings, school communities and across DPS. 

In addition to our building-based providers, the Department of Mental Health also leads our DPS efforts in:

  • Student safety work related to psychological and emotional safety.
  • Substance prevention/intervention.
  • Therapeutic, trauma-specific work and clinical services.
  • Behavior supports.
  • Nonviolent Crisis Intervention (NCI) training and supports.
  • Truancy and delinquency support.
  • Mental health community partnerships.
  • Culturally responsive social emotional learning practices. 


  1. Student Safety
  • Partnership and collaboration in the development of the DPS Long-Term Safety Plan with action steps to support implementation.
  • Supported the district and City of Denver’s collaborative efforts to implement youth violence prevention working groups and increase access to community resources for all DPS families.
  • School suicide prevention programming continues to sustain consistent implementation rates of 95% or better in fifth, sixth and ninth grade. Programming is extending to 12th grade in response to increasing rates of suicide among the 18-24-year-old population. 
  • Expansion of DPS staff training in student safety protocol processes, suicide prevention and grief/loss. Additional training for DPS parents is a focus for the 2023-24 school year.
  • Our Student Safety Coordinator Team became Trainer of Trainers (TOT) in the (NASP) PREPaRE Workshop 1 (PPWS1) and Workshop 2 (PPWS2). 
  • The PREPaRE curriculum has been developed by the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) as part of NASP’s decade-long leadership in providing evidence-based resources and consultation related to school crisis prevention and response. PREPaRE training is ideal for schools committed to improving and strengthening their school safety and crisis management plans and emergency response. 
  • The team trained a leader/designee from 95 schools in PPWS1 during the 2022-23 school year, and 51 mental health providers in PPWS2 during the 2022-23 school year. Expanded access to training for schools will be a focus for the 2023-24 school year. 
  1. DPS has used the Behavioral and Emotional Screening System (BESS) as its social, emotional and mental health screening tool since the spring of 2017. In the 2021-22 school year, one of DPS’s transition priorities after the COVID-19 pandemic and remote learning was to support the social, emotional and mental health of all students. Schools were required to screen all students for mental health starting in the 2022-23 school year. All students will be screened three times during the 2023-24 school year.
  1. It is essential that our mental health SSPs receive meaningful support beyond standard evaluations. Thus, we have implemented an Enhanced Systematic Support Model for increasing our mental health providers’ knowledge and skills.

As part of this new enhanced support model, the Mental Health Leadership team provided a full week of intensive professional development over the summer for all school social workers and school psychologists.

  • Outcome data: 
  • 91.6% of social work participants and 83.1% of school psychology participants answered “Agree” or “Strongly Agree” to the statement “The Intensive improved my overall content knowledge of the evaluation process.”
  • 90% of all participants answered “Agree” or “Strongly Agree” to the statements “The Intensive allowed me to feel more prepared for the 2023-24 school year.” 
  1. Recruitment, hiring and retention of highly qualified and diverse mental health staff. 
  • In 2022-23, the department had 19 school psychology interns and 16 graduate students. 12 of the 19 school psychology interns will be continuing as full-time school psychologists in the 2023-24 school year.
  • In 2022-23, we had 30 Master of Social Work students, five of which were hired for 2023-24.
  • For all district-managed schools, the department met the minimum staffing requirement of 1.0 mental health providers at each school. Across all schools, mental health personnel were staffed within the 95-99% range.
  • This is a significant accomplishment as we are currently in the midst of a national mental health staffing shortage.
  • The DPS Department of Mental Health building-based providers continue to have a higher retention rate than other mental health agencies, with an average retention rate of 93%. In addition, 25% of DPS Mental Health Department staff identify as Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) as compared to the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) of which 13.8% of national providers identify as BIPOC. 
  1. Prevention and Therapeutic Specialists (PTS) Programming.
  • During the 2022-23 school year, the School Health Professional and Therapeutic Service Provider teams merged under the title of Prevention and Therapeutic Specialist. This group of 33 school social workers and school psychologists provide targeted, evidence-based substance use prevention and intervention and therapeutic services, primarily supporting students who otherwise did not receive mental health or social-emotional support through a Section 504 Plan or special education services. 
  • 607 students were provided with individual therapeutic or substance use support.
  • 391 students were provided with small group therapeutic or substance use support.
  • 6,526 students were provided with whole-class/universal social-emotional and substance use prevention instruction.
  • Of students who worked with a PTS and provided pre/post data on therapeutic services received during 2022-23, over 70% self-reported reductions in anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress symptoms following intervention. In each substance category assessed, over 60% of students who received applicable supports self-reported decreased use over the past 30 days following intervention.
  • The development and implementation of community-facing fentanyl education events across three district high schools, featuring expert panelists and Narcan distribution by the Maddie Wright Foundation. 

I want to share my deep gratitude and appreciation for all of our incredible team members and Special Service Providers in the Department of Mental Health for the critical work you do every day supporting our students and families. I am constantly impressed by the dedication and heart work you all lead for! 

If your child needs mental health support, please do not hesitate to reach out to the Department of Mental Health at Exceptional Student Services by emailing



Julie Rottier-Lukens
Executive Director, Exceptional Student Services