Ascension among finalists for federal Race To The Top grant

The Ascension Parish school district is one of 60 finalists left in the running for a prestigious Race to the Top district grant being awarded by the U.S. Department of Education.

Superintendent Patrice Pujol announced Tuesday night that the district made the final paring. Ascension Parish is the only school district in Louisiana to make the cut, according to a list of finalists on the Department of Education’s website.

“It’s pretty exciting,” Pujol said.

Louisiana had seven formal applicants — including Iberville and Jefferson parishes — for the Race to the Top grant, and the Department of Education received a total of nearly 1,200 applicants from across the country, figures on the department’s website show.

The Department of Education announced in August that it would hand out $383 million to between 15 and 25 school districts across the nation as part of its Race to the Top competition. In order to qualify, districts were required to have more than 2,000 students with 40 percent or more who qualify for free or reduced-cost lunches.

Ascension Parish is eligible to receive a grant of nearly $30 million, and Jennifer Tuttleton, the school district’s director of school improvement, said the district would use those funds to meet goals such as placing high-quality teachers and administrators in every school, increasing literary and math test scores, narrowing the achievement gap among minority students and increasing the district’s graduation rates.

Pujol said the finalists should receive notification in late December or early January if they have received one of the grants.

While she said being named a finalist was “promising,” and district officials felt they submitted a competitive proposal, she won’t start celebrating until the district receives notification of the award.

“I’ll be excited if we get the money,” she said, “but we’re thankful for this interim step.”

Other matters coming before the board included:

ROEMER VISITS: Chas Roemer, a Baton Rouge resident who serves on the state’s Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, will visit several district schools on Wednesday.

Pujol said Roemer will visit the three Dutchtown schools on La. 73 and will meet with teachers and administrators to discuss some of their concerns about upcoming education changes and reforms.