Five local school districts are hoping the strengths they can bring together in a partnership will give them the edge over other districts vying for a piece of a highly competitive $250 million state grant.
A product of the latest biennial budget and designed to jumpstart the minds of educators who – but for lack of funding -- would try new things in classrooms, the Straight A Fund is being called by some one of the most unique ways to encourage new ideas in education and several districts have already sent in letters of intent to let state leaders know they want a shot.
“We don’t have the exact details on the application, but we know this is a great opportunity for schools, especially those schools that want to do something unique and different,” said Columbia Superintendent Graig Bansek. “And it provides funds at a time when districts are especially lacking the funds to think outside the box.”
Columbia is part of a local partnership that includes the Avon, Midview, Firelands and Keystone school districts. The mix of schools came together informally when an e-mail went countywide for those looking to team up to go after the money.
At the first meeting held a week ago, Bansek said he learned the districts may be different, but are very much the same in terms of what they want for their students.
“We are all looking for the same type of module for our students to increase achievement with blended learning, technology and professional development,” he said.
The state Department of Education said Thursday it had already received more than 1,000 letters of intent from interested districts and groups interested in the Straight A Fund. Today is the last day to submit notifications of intent.
Applications will be accepted electronically from Oct. 14 to Oct. 25.
Bansek said blended learning is a complete redesign of traditional instructional models.
“It’s more complicated because it’s a matter of allowing kids to learn at their own pace using technology, but having teachers, coaches and guides in the classroom to help kids move from lesson to lesson,” he said. “With the increased use of technology in society, it will be the best way of instructing students so they are ready for the future.”
Technology could encompass allowing students to bring their own devices to school (BYOD) or a one-to-one approach, where the district provides the technology for students and staff.
A huge component on how applications will be scored will include sustainability. Those who apply would have to prove they could fund programs started with grant funds after the money is gone. For a district like Columbia that is scraping by financially and has a levy on the upcoming ballot, the caveat will be challenging but not insurmountable.
“We will have to design a program based on where we are today because we don’t know what will happen next month,” Bansek said. “But we are doing this because we want learning communities. Not just teachers and students, but finding a way to keep parents and community involved in the way education is changing.”
The $250 million will be split between fiscal years 2014 and 2015.
Grants will be awarded by a nine-member board that consists of the state superintendent of public instruction, four members appointed by the governor, two members appointed by the speaker of the House of Representatives and two members appointed by the president of the Senate.