Wake County schools dealing with end of Race to the Top grant

Posted by T. Keung Hui on December 30, 2013 

With the federal funds running out next summer, the Wake County school system will have to decide what to do with the Renaissance Schools program.

Wake used its $10.3 million share of the state’s federal Race to the Top Grant for a variety of efforts, including creating the Renaissance Schools. The five Renaissance Schools have received extras such as bonus pay for teachers, smaller class sizes and new technology.

The school board will discuss within the next few months the close-out of the Race to the Top grant. How the school board handles the Renaissance Schools could indicate how it will address the needs of high-poverty schools in Wake.

Initially, the program was targeted at four schools – Barwell, Brentwood, Creech Road and Wilburn elementary schools – because they had among the lowest proficiency rates in the district on state exams. Walnut Creek Elementary School was added to the program later.

Former Superintendent Tony Tata had touted the academic gains at the Renaissance Schools last year, although board member Jim Martin questioned how significant those gains were compared to the improvement seen across the county.

But with the new Common Core standards and state exams, proficiency rates dropped statewide. The impact was more noticeable at the Renaissance Schools, which all have high percentages of economically disadvantaged students.

Without the federal funds, Wake will have to decide whether to reallocate other dollars to keep the Renaissance Schools program functioning past this school year. Elimination of the program, especially after the recent change in school board leadership, might not go down well in the African-American community.

If the Renaissance Schools do continue, one question would be whether merit pay is still offered. School board members had clashed with Tata over his support for performance pay for teachers.

North Carolina received $400 million from the Race to the Top grant. State eduction leaders are asking for an extension of the grant period.

As noted in today’s article by Lynn Bonner, some goals for broad improvements in student performance have fallen short. Incentives such as vouchers for systems to lure better teachers got little use.

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