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Vol. 44, No. 87

December 28, 2010

 

Grants Help Schools Invest in Reforms

Change Not Easy, Education Officials Monitoring Progress

 

At the halfway point of this school year, state education officials are taking stock of headway being made by a group of public schools to combat low academic achievement.

Earlier this year, 32 Missouri schools were identified as the most persistently low-performing and became eligible for aid under the federal School Improvement Grant program.  The schools, all located in the St. Louis, Kansas City and southeast Missouri areas, are a mix of elementary, middle and high schools, and charter schools.

The schools were eligible to compete for a share of a special three-year, $54 million federal grant offered to Missouri.  This funding was part of $3.5 billion made available to states this spring through the School Improvement Grants program.

Beginning in January, the State Board of Education will receive progress reports from school representatives who received federal funding for intensive school-reform interventions based on one of four models identified by the U.S. Department of Education: turnaround, restart, school closure or transformation.

“Naturally, no educator or parent wants their students or schools to struggle academically, but the reality is that some are, and school and community leaders are working to turn things around - as quickly as possible,” said Margie Vandeven, assistant commissioner of quality schools, Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Eligible Missouri schools worked this summer to submit detailed reform plans with such strategies as replacing the principal or half of the teachers, reforming the curriculum, revamping the school governance structure, developing instructional and social service partnerships, extending learning time and providing extensive professional development for teachers and school leaders.

The applications were evaluated and scored impartially by a diverse, statewide team of 38 individuals, all of whom have been involved in school improvement and turnaround initiatives.  The ability for each school to carry out and sustain its reform plan was a major factor in the award determination.

“Unlike previous school improvement grants, these were not intended to simply distribute monies on a per-pupil basis,” said Vandeven.  “Rather, these grants were designed to be competitive and to support those schools with the best plans and the greatest capacity for bold reform.  And, unlike past programs, there is no guarantee for continued funding.  Funding for the second and third years of the program will be dependent on the schools demonstrating results.”

Throughout the year, state education department personnel and outside partners are on-site frequently monitoring progress and providing support to school administrators as they carry out their turnaround or transformation plans.

“This work is not easy, and a great amount of effort − and change − remains ahead.  It is critically important that these schools succeed in their efforts to improve,” said Vandeven.  “We encourage parents and their local communities to support their schools in these critical efforts.  The future of our children is at stake.”

 

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