Board OKs pursuit of Race to the Top funds

Richmond County school board members took the first step Thursday in a Race to the Top. In a called meeting, board members unanimously agreed to file an application in coordination with the state for the Race to the Top initiative that President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan unveiled earlier this year.

 

"Our district was one of 40 that was invited to join the state in the application for the Race to the Top federal funds," Superintendent Dana Bedden told the board before the vote.

He said the district was chosen partly for its commitment to innovation and willingness to improve low-performing schools. Through Race to the Top, states will compete for financial support by submitting applications for planned school reforms.

"A lot of the things we're already doing," Dr. Bedden said.

One such reform would focus on turning around lowest-achieving schools. That could occur through four federal models, one of which would involve adding a new principal and retaining no more than 50 percent of a school's staff. School closure is an option.

Georgia is among seven states that have been told to plan statewide for a potential $200 million to $400 million.

All total, the Race to the Top initiative is set to award $4 billion nationwide in two phases, with recipients to be announced in April and September. Dr Bedden said that on the statewide level, Georgia's share would be spread over four years, with half going to the state and the remainder being divvied up among participating local school systems.

He said it's not known how much Richmond County might be eligible for, but the amount is partly based on Title 1 funding. He said Richmond County could benefit from its significant number of Title 1 schools.

Thursday's meeting was called because the county's deadline for applying is Jan. 8.

Columbia County school officials are gathering information from the state Department of Education, and should the county meet the Race to the Top criteria, it likely will seek some of the money, said Associate Superintendent Lauren Williams.

"We're not going to let any money sit on the table that we might qualify for," she said.

Aiken County schools could earn up to $6 million if South Carolina wins one of the first-round grants, according to King Laurence, the school system's federal programs director.

He said many Aiken County initiatives would only need to be tweaked.

"We're already focusing a lot of attention on schools that are struggling and we've implemented a system for principal evaluations based on performance," he said. "We're ahead of the curve."

FOCUS AREAS

The U.S. Department of Education has asked states to focus reforms on four areas for the Race to the Top initiative:

- Adopt standards and assessments that prepare students to succeed in college, the workplace and compete in the global economy

- Build data systems that measure student growth and success and let teachers and principals know how they can improve

- Recruit, develop, reward and retain effective teachers and principals

- Turn around lowest-achieving schools