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Our History

The National Center for School Mental Health (NCSMH) at the University of Maryland School of Medicine is a technical assistance and training center with a focus on advancing research, training, policy, and practice in school mental health. School mental health has, at its foundation, strong family-school-community partnerships with a shared goal of promoting positive academic and social-emotional-behavioral outcomes for all students. Core funding for the NCSMH is from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), Maternal and Child Health Bureau. Originally, the Center was funded in 1995 as one of two national Centers to advance mental health in schools, one under the direction of Dr. Mark Weist at the University of Maryland and the other under the leadership of Dr. Howard Adelman and Dr. Linda Taylor at University of California, Los Angeles.

Early learning from school mental health clinical programs in Baltimore City (beginning in 1989) and from several exemplar states across the country informed foundational knowledge of best practice and policy and provided the NCSMH with a beginning framework to advance school mental health at school, district, state, and national levels. Through HRSAs continued requests for proposal for advancing school mental health, the NCSMH has been fortunate to continue to receive funding. In 2011, under the direction of Co-Directors Drs. Sharon Hoover and Nancy Lever, the NCSMH became the only HRSA-funded national school mental health center. In 2014, the NCSMH and the School-Based Health Alliance (“the Alliance”) jointly applied to HRSA to conduct the School-Based Health Services National Quality Initiative, with the Alliance leading school-based health center efforts and the NCSMH leading comprehensive school mental health system efforts. The goal of The National Quality Initiative is to grow the number of school-based health centers and comprehensive school mental health systems and to improve the quality of services. Activities included developing a national census and a set of standardized national performance measures for school health quality and sustainability. In 2018, the NCSMH and the Alliance successfully applied together for the new school health services funding from HRSA and were awarded a five-year cooperative agreement, beginning September 1, 2018.

Since its inception, the NCSMH mission has been to reduce barriers to learning and promote success for all students. The NCSMH has long recognized the importance of providing services and supports to children, adolescents, and families directly in schools as part of a multi-tiered system of support. Much of the success of the NCSMH stems from its efforts to bridge research and practice and its focus on pre-service training and professional development. The NCSMH provides leadership to and learns from its own University of Maryland school mental health programs as well as from school mental health programs and system leaders across the country. The work of the NCSMH to advance high quality evidence-based practices and programming across a multi-tiered system of support is informed by frontline practices. The NCSMH recognizes the value of relationships and partnerships; the Center has partnered with and facilitated learning communities, including Communities of Practice on School Mental Health, National Collaboratives on Improvement and Innovation Networks (CoIINs), a national State Coalition to Advance School Mental Health, and numerous learning collaboratives. The NCSMH has facilitated school mental health summits with federal, state, and local partners; developed an online platform, the SHAPE System (, to serve as a tool for school mental health teams to document, track, and advance quality and sustainability in school mental health; and has published widely and presented extensively at local, state, national, and international levels.