The Race to the Top is starting to heat up.
The Georgia Department of Education and Richmond County school system are taking steps to implement the federal stimulus-funded education reform effort.
Georgia was one of 11 states, plus the District of Columbia, that won shares of the $4 billion Race to the Top competitive grant. Georgia will receive $400 million over the next four years and, as one of the state's 26 participating districts, Richmond County will see about $16.6 million of that.
"The first year is a lot of work making sure we get the foundational pieces right," said Jon Rogers, Race to the Top Georgia's communications director. "The great thing is that we have a pilot for our 26 partner districts for several programs for the 2011-12 school year. Like anything, this gives us a safety net to see what we have planned -- this is what we think works, so let's put it in practice before there are consequences to it."
The U.S. Department of Education hasn't yet approved the scope of work from Georgia and four other states, but Rogers said that is because, at least in Georgia's case, the state is in transition. Since the state won the grant, it has elected a new governor and state superintendent of schools.
Rogers said he does expect final federal approval of the scope of work -- essentially, the state's plan to actually implement the numerous programs on its Race to the Top application -- within a couple of months.
The State Board of Education approved several measures at its monthly meeting last week to move forward with Race to the Top initiatives. One that directly involves Richmond County is the state's contract with The New Teacher Project to recruit new teachers in high-demand subjects such as math, science and special education from people working in related career fields. Georgia will pay for this with $3.6 million in Race to the Top funds.
The New Teacher Project will establish a Georgia Teaching Fellows program to recruit as many as 175 teachers in those shortage areas for each of the next five years, yielding a total of up to 525 new teachers. Richmond and Burke counties will receive about 55 of these teachers each year.
The state board approved a contract with the College Board using $1.1 million in Race to the Top money to administer, score and report Preliminary SAT exams for all 10th-graders in public high schools. Rogers said the state has traditionally paid for PSAT exams, but the legislature eliminated that funding. So the state included that item in its winning Race to the Top application last year.
The board approved partnering with 17 school districts to have the 40 lowest-performing schools in the state participate in a "leadership academy" this summer. Local participants include Butler, Josey, Glenn Hills and Laney high schools and Murphey Charter Middle School in Richmond County and Burke County High School.
The state's first-year Race to the Top allocation is $32.5 million, and Richmond County gets $3.8 million of that. During a school board meeting last week, Virginia Bradshaw, the district's executive director of middle schools, said the largest portion of the district's money -- 39 percent -- will be used to ensure teachers are teaching to the standards and help improve students' performance on Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests.
Other significant portions of the district's $16.6 million share will pay for additional training of staff at struggling schools, including participation in the state leadership academy (27 percent of the district's allocation), along with training staff and leaders across the district (24 percent).
Rogers added Georgia has hired a coordinator to oversee the development of a system designed to track how students are doing from prekindergarten through college.