Two New Orleans-area school districts are among a handful across the state taking aim at an elusive, lucrative federal grant.
The U.S. Department of Education announced in August that it would hand out $383 million to between 15 and 25 school districts across the country as part of its Race to the Top competition, which previously had provided more than $4 billion in grants to states, including Louisiana, that undertook ambitious education reforms.
The grants range from $5 million to $40 million, depending on the size of the school districts, and are available to districts with more than 2,000 students and 40 percent or more who qualify for free or reduced-cost lunches.
Jefferson and Orleans parish schools were among 14 school districts in the state and nearly 900 across the nation that originally stated their intent to apply for one of the competitive grants. However, not all of those districts who intended to apply actually will. The applications are due Tuesday.
Of those 14, however, many decided the grant application process simply was too arduous to continue, though both Jefferson and Orleans are pushing forward to meet Tuesday’s deadline.
Other districts that confirmed they will submit Race to the Top applications were Caddo, Ascension and Lafourche parishes.
Kyle Goss, the executive director of policy for Jefferson Parish schools, said he didn’t want to reveal too many details about his district’s grant proposal because of the competitive nature of the process, but he said district officials were prepared to present a “multi-layered plan.”
“At the heart of it, we’re looking to give educators multiple types of tools to personalize learning for kids,” Goss said.
The district wasn’t looking to create anything groundbreaking, but rather has focused on expanding some of the initiatives it already is doing well. Goss said the plan will focus on expanding data systems to support teachers and administrators as well as developing community partnerships.
“We’re going to focus on what we are doing and how we can scale those things up,” he said.
“The Race to the Top-District program presents Jefferson Parish Public Schools with a unique opportunity to build upon the progress we have seen over the past year,” Acting Superintendent James A. Meza said. “The application proposal we developed will help personalize learning for every child and provide better data to teachers to ensure all JPPSS students are receiving a high-quality education that is tailored to their needs.”
Multiple attempts to reach officials from Orleans Parish to discuss their Race to the Top application were unsuccessful.
Jefferson and Orleans parishes both are eligible for a grant between $20 million and $30 million. Although Goss said he wasn’t sure of the precise figure for Jefferson Parish, he said it would be “on the upper end” of the range.
Although district officials had a long weekend ahead of them with a lot of work remaining to finish the proposal prior to Tuesday’s deadline, Goss said the process has been a positive one for district officials that featured a great deal of collaboration among departments throughout the district.
“It was really a tough task … (but) it’s been a great exercise to dig in and to ask some questions as to where you are as a district and to think about what makes sense for us moving forward,” Goss said.
Like Goss, officials in Ascension Parish stressed how difficult it was to put together a proposal in a short period of time. Ascension’s plan revolves around building strong leaders through a leadership academy, deepening professional learning communities and deepening the personalization of learning for both teachers and students.
Similar to the plan put together by Jefferson Parish, Ascension officials said they would focus on existing applications that are showing proven results.
“We feel we are well on our way to being highly competitive,” said Jennifer Tuttleton, the director of school improvement for Ascension Parish schools.
While acknowledging he will be relieved to have the process finished, Goss said he is confident in the proposal the district will submit.
“I think we have a good chance,” he said. “I really do.”