The Natrona County School District has been implementing a program to identify and intervene with students who are struggling not only with their class work but also with their behavior.

The program, called the Multi-tier System of Supports, or MTSS, takes a long-term look at the causes of academic and behavioral issues, said Angela Hensley, the district's executive director for school improvement.

The elementary schools started the program two years ago, and the middle schools have been using it for a year, Hensley said Monday. "That's really focusing on the behavior because we haven't done that as consistently as we have been working on our academics."

It is unknown when MTSS will be started in the high schools, she added.

The district works with the parents of the students who need help with academic and behavioral issues, Hensley said. "All of our schools have a goal of around increasing parent involvement; and now they have more information to do that."

Hensley and Ted Hanson, the district's director of special services, said there are three tiers in the pyramid-shaped system.

The bottom and largest tier offers identifies the academic and social needs for all students and includes 75 percent to 90 percent of students who have few problems with their academic work and their social skills, Hensley said.

The middle tier identifies some at-risk students, who comprise about 10 percent to 25 percent of the student population who are struggling and need some kind of help, she said. "It's an intermediate need for students."

The top tier affects only 3 percent to 5 percent of students who need more individual support including cognitive behavioral therapy, Hanson said.

Many students in the top tier have experienced some form of  trauma, and trauma affects how the brain operates and a student's ability to learn, he said.

Hanson said while schools have used similar programs, the Multi-tier System of Supports analyzes the root causes of behavioral problems and then finds ways to resolve them.

The program is used nationwide, and research shows that it works, he added.

During a work session Monday, an elementary school administrator told the district's board of trustees that the program has resulted in fewer referrals for discipline and a feeling of a safer environment among school staff.

The MTSS is a lot of work and requires a lot of training, but it is more comprehensive than similar but short-term programs, Hensley said.