NC lands $13.6M grant aimed at low-performing schools

jstancill@newsobserver.comDecember 27, 2013 

North Carolina will receive $13.6 million from the federal government to continue the battle to transform its lowest performing schools.

The School Improvement Grants were announced this week by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. Seven states will receive $43.4 million in the latest round of awards aimed at turning around schools with low scores and high poverty rates.

North Carolina’s grant was the largest among the seven states, which also included Arkansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Rhode Island, Tennessee and Wisconsin.

In North Carolina, 118 schools are considered to be consistently low performing, said State Superintendent June Atkinson.

Since 2010, North Carolina has allocated $143 million in federal School Improvement Grant money to 61 schools, including several in Durham, Chatham and Wake counties.

Schools must apply for the money through a competitive process, with an improvement plan using one of four approaches: transformation, turnaround, closure or restart. The grants typically are allocated over three- or four-year periods, with the state monitoring the school for better student achievement and graduation rates, Atkinson said.

“To date, we have found that generally speaking, they have made tremendous progress at these schools,” Atkinson said. “Some more than others.”

The state Department of Public Instruction will take in proposals from schools in the coming months, and the State Board of Education will have the final say over which schools receive the money. The grants could be allocated by the beginning of the 2014-15 school year, Atkinson said.

Spending is flexible

In the past, the money has been used in a variety of ways, including professional development for educators, lower class sizes, social workers, extra tutoring and classroom technology. Some schools have closed and reopened with new staff attracted by bonuses for teachers and principals. Others have moved to an extended school day or school year to work with low-achieving students.

Atkinson said the new grants will be needed as schools adjust to the Common Core State Standards, which have tougher learning goals for students.

“We have so many needs, especially with our students who are struggling,” Atkinson said. “We have new standards. This money will be welcomed by the schools who will receive it.”

Seven Triangle-area schools have won grants previously, according to the state Department of Public Instruction. They are: SAGE Academy in Chatham County; Durham Performance Learning, Y.E. Smith Elementary, Hillside High, Chewning Middle and Glenn Elementary, all in Durham; and Longview School in Wake County.

In announcing the awards, Duncan said the grants help the schools succeed for students who need it the most.

“When schools fail, our children and neighborhoods suffer,” Duncan said in news release. “Turning around our lowest-performing schools is hard work but it’s our responsibility. We owe it to our children, their families and the broader community.”

So far the federal program has funneled up to $2 million per school at more than 1,500 of the nation’s most troubled schools.

Stancill: 919-829-4559

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