Focus Grants to four schools
by JOYANNA WEBER, Banner Staff Writer
Oct 04, 2012 | 1037 views | 0 0 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Four local schools have been awarded grants to develop strategies for reaching specific subgroups of students by the Tennessee Department of Education.

Charleston, Taylor and Waterville Community (Bradley County ) elementary schools and Mayfield (Cleveland City) elementary school were officially named recipients of the Focus Grants on Wednesday.

Each of the schools had three weeks to submit a grant to receive $100,000 to $300,000. The amount was largely based on school size. Taylor received $100,000, while Waterville and Charleston received $200,000 each. Mayfield received $110,156.

“They were really creative about the things that they chose to put in,” according to Sheena Newman, Bradley County supervisor of Elementary Education. “Every single one of them was great.”

“We’re very proud of Mayfield Elementary and their accomplishment in doing this,” Cleveland City Schools director Dr. Martin Ringstaff said.

The schools were among 152 across the state that applied for the funding, according to a state DOE press release.

All of the schools were designated as needing improvement in the economically disadvantaged category. Waterville Elementary School, which has a class for the county’s students with disabilities with the greatest needs, was also listed as needing subgroup improvement in the Students With Disabilities categories. Bradley County Data Analysis and Testing Coordinator Angie Gill said many of the students with disabilities at Waterville are also economically disadvantaged so their scores are counted twice.

While support during the grant-writing process was available from the system’s central office, Newman said each of the schools formed advisory groups to develop their grants. Parents, teachers, and in some cases, students met to brainstorm ways to help close the gap between achievement scores of economically disadvantaged students and students with disabilities versus students not in those categories.

“They all had different needs,” Gill said. “There were some threads, similarities that were woven through all, but each one put their own little spin on them that was unique to their dynamics.”

For Mayfield, Ringstaff said the central office helped the schools ensure the data they used in the grant application was accurate.

“Really Mayfield formed a team of teachers and administrators working with Jeff (Elliott) to write the grant,” Ringstaff said.

Elliott said Mayfield’s Dee Dee Finison was the driving force behind the grant. Debbie Torres also contributed to the process, Ringstaff added.

Professional development was a component outlined in grant applications for all the schools.

“They focused on what is going to be able to improve instruction,” Gill said. “So a lot of it was focused around professional development.”

Gill said this professional development will focus on strategies for keeping economically disadvantaged students engaged in the classroom.

“[It will] get them sidetracked from their life long enough to learn some things,” Gill said.

However, Gill said each school had a different approach to the best professional development for their school.

In the city school system, professional development will focus on use of technology, specifically Classworks. Elliott said in the city schools software will allow students to start at the level they are on and work from there.

“It can be used in the classroom and the student can work above and beyond that at home,” Elliott said.

Schoolnet software is also being used systemwide to track student achievement.

Both school systems will be using the required benchmark tests throughout the year to measure progress and success of the new initiatives.

“We already had the baseline testing and the bench mark data and we are already in the process … of tackling the problem even before we knew it was an issue,” Martin said.

Mayfield Elementary will also use the funds “to hire additional personnel as part-time interventionists.” Elliott said the school would be adding a math focus at the school.

There were only two counties in the state that were awarded three grants, according to Bradley County Schools Director Johnny McDaniel. Most systems received fewer than that. Nashville received the most with four grants being awarded to schools in the district.

Parent involvement is another aspect that county schools are addressing in focus schools, not just those that received the grant. Gill said some schools are working with their BEST partners to provide informational sessions for parents on resume writing, interview skills and other things that will help them help their child.

Administrators in both school systems said they were also proud of the work that schools not receiving the grant put into the application.

Schools that received the focus grant have an opportunity to renew the grant if they are showing progress toward reaching the desired gap closure.

Schools that did not receive a focus grant will have consultant support from the state to help them in developing strategies for moving forward.

Newman said the training that teachers would receive from the grant would be shared with the teachers at the other focus schools. McDaniel pointed out the county schools are looking at what they could do with current funding to do some of the things the other schools had applied for in the grant. Before- and after-school opportunities for students to receive extra academic help are also being used.