No Race to the Top funds for Morgan
By Kathryn Schiliro
School system administration received word from the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) on Tuesday, Dec. 11, that the system would not be receiving the much-anticipated Race to the Top-District grant.
Morgan County’s grant, submitted to the DOE in October, requested more than $9.7 million – Race to the Top stipulates funding amounts based on system size; Morgan could request between $5 and $10 million – to personalize learning by providing each student with their own individual laptop or iPad. The funding would’ve also gone to training and support for these technologies.
Applications, each reviewed by three independent evaluators, were scored on a scale of up to 210 points; Morgan County’s three scores ranged from 172 out of 210 points to 182 out of 210. Those scores were averaged and then ranked by the DOE.
Across the three reviews, evaluators pointed out the need for additional budget details in regard to personnel salaries and non-personnel expenditures, as well as funding sustainability; an increase in “access and exposure to diverse cultures, contexts, and perspectives that motivate and deepen individual student learning;” and the need for more teacher participation in the grant.
“Even though the applicant received support from 70 [percent] of the educators, it appears that the applicant did not involve the educators in the initial design discussions or revisions. It appears that the educators were only brought in at the end and asked to approve the plan rather than to help design the plan,” one review states.
The inclusion of optional postsecondary data, like college enrollment, might have increased scores as well.
Additionally, questions arose as to use of the proposed technologies at home as some students’ home environments may not include Internet capability.
“As best we can determine from the feedback, our decision not to include proposals for two optional, competitive priorities probably had a significant effect,” Bennett said Friday, via e-mail. “Additional budget details would have also garnered us some additional points.”
“Reviewers’ comments have been shared with the school system and will be used to guide further grant application efforts,” wrote Dr. Wayne Myers, the system’s school readiness coordinator who orchestrated the Race to the Top-District grant application, in an e-mail.
The largest, most comprehensive grant application completed by the school system – and completed without the help of a grant writer – Bennett credits administrative staff, especially Myers, for their work.
“Since this was really our first foray into either the Race to the Top Program grants or any large-scale federal grant of a similar nature, I’m particularly proud of this first effort by system staff,” Bennett wrote. “I think we’ve learned a couple of lessons: (1) Even if the application suggests a section is optional, complete it. (2) Make sure that adequate time is allotted for grant development. (3) We’re capable of putting together a large-scale grant without the services of a grant writer, although those services would have been helpful.”
Admittedly disappointed, Assistant Superintendent Sarah Burbach added Friday that writing the grant has furthered staff’s knowledge of system data.
“We examine our data all the time, but we learn so much more about ourselves the deeper we go,” she said.
As part of the application, near 30 community, business and local government organizations as well as individuals wrote letters on the school system’s behalf.
In total, there were 372 applications from around the country initially applied for Race to the Top-District funds. Morgan County was one of 61 finalists nationwide – one of four in Georgia, the others being the Fulton County Board of Education, Haralson County School System and Rockdale County Public Schools – in the running to receive the grant.
Sixteen of those finalists – none are from Georgia – will receive Race to the Top funding, according to DOE information.
Personalization of education has been a part of the school system’s strategic plan for almost 20 years, Burbach said. And as for future grant applications to further this mission: “We’ve got the road map and everybody on board,” she said.
“The grant process provided the school system the opportunity to create a plan for moving forward on one of our major goals: personalized learning,” wrote Myers. “Achieving status as a finalist is a recognition that Morgan County has the capacity and skills to compete in national grant competitions. The level of success with this grant has encourage us all to look for that next grant opportunity.”
Printed in the December 20, 2012 edition