Schools land federal funding

Schools land federal funding

RANTOUL - A $780,000 grant from the federal government will help teachers in dozens of - participating school districts find out why some students aren't learning and what they can do about it.

?We're proud to be the fiscal agent for this grant,? said Rantoul-based Regional Superintendent Marty Barrett, whose office put together the proposal funded with No Child Left Behind federal money.

?This is an example of how the regional offices are working with school districts to find the most efficient and effective ways to provide training for all the districts,? Barrett said. ?It's an example of those offices working to maximize the impact of the federal dollars by making programs available to a large number of districts.?

Kathy Massey, director of the Area IV Learning Technology Center at the regional office, said the new program was conceived to help schools in a 17-county region tackle problems by making new centralized tools and training available to all participants. She said dozens of districts in that area chose to participate in the program.

The participating districts also talked to private schools in their areas to see if they are interested in participating, but the number of private schools involved isn't available yet, Massey said.

Area districts that have signed up for the three-year program include Champaign, Urbana, Danville, Catlin, Hoopeston, Westville, Bismarck-Henning, Jamaica, Argenta-Oreana, Bement, Iroquois West and Iroquois, Fisher, Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley, Heritage, Mahomet-Seymour, Ogden, Rantoul City Schools, St. Joseph and St. Joseph-Ogden, Thomasboro, Shiloh, Blue Ridge, Clinton, Heyworth, and LeRoy.

Massey said the first part of the program will be data analysis.

?We'll help schools analyze standardized test scores to find weaknesses then pick one weakness to address,? she said. ?It might be sixth-grade math or fourth-grade reading or something else based on the analysis. Then we'll work with a team of teachers and administrators near to the need to investigate interventions.?

Team members will work with University of Illinois experts who will be part of the program to figure out what they can do to change the situation and improve the scores. Massey said the answers will vary from school to school and classroom to classroom.

?For example, if sixth-grade math is the problem, they might find out that the teachers don't have the course work they need to teach geometry,? she said. ?Or it could be how or when information is presented to classes. If there are questions about weather on the tests, they might want to change the time the weather unit is taught if it's after the test dates.?

The regional office will pay teachers and administrators to do five days of investigation. Starting dates will be staggered.

Massey said participating districts must agree to extensive evaluation so everyone knows how the program is working.

?Most teachers and administrators understand No Child Left Behind's emphasis on research and the fact that if schools don't do well, there will be no more federal dollars,? Massey said. ?They're looking for yearly progress.?

No Child Left Behind is the Bush administration's plan for improving services to all children in schools, especially those who aren't performing up to standards, and for tying school funding to progress toward those goals.

Massey said the grant specifically aimed to make the most of the grant dollars by targeting professional development.

?The money won't buy much technology,? she said. ?In the past, maybe 30 or 40 area schools would apply for grants and maybe six would get funded. This time, we thought a combined grant would be the best idea so all schools will be sure of getting something to make improvements.?

A third component of the program is called ?cognitive coaching.?

?That will be offered through the regional offices in the target area,? Massey said. ?Representatives from those offices will be attending the training to support the teachers, and there will be some training online. With the UI, we'll have an e-mentoring program so we can discuss issues online, and we're looking now for experts to join those discussions.?

Massey said the overriding concern is to take a close look at a problem that's troubling all school districts in a way that makes the analysis relevant to individual districts' special circumstances.

Two other elective components of the grant program focus on technology. One called GenY aims to to make students technology-literate, enough so that by eighth grade, they can serve as troubleshooters in their classrooms. Thomasboro students are working with that pilot program.

A second focuses on how students and parents can work together using a software program named BigChalk that parents can use with students.

An Indianapolis-based expert, Elizabeth Oyer, will help the Rantoul office analyze results of the program, Massey said.

The grant to the Rantoul office was one of the largest awarded in Illinois, and the only larger grants were make to regional offices in the Collar Counties and in the East St. Louis metropolitan area.

You can reach Anne Cook at (217) 351-5217 or via e-mail at acook@news-gazette.com.

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