LUSD, FUSD begin ‘Race To the Top’

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Two local school districts have applied for a share of hundreds of millions in federal funds to implement programs to improve academic achievement and educator effectiveness.

Lindsay Unified School District (LUSD) and Farmersville Unified School District (FUSD) were among nearly 900 schools to submit their intent to apply for 2012 Race to the Top funding for school districts. The 2012 funding cycle is offering a share of nearly $400 million through the U.S. Department of Education to support local reforms that will personalize learning, close achievement gaps and prepare each student for college and their careers.

LUSD Superintendent Tom Rooney said Lindsay applied for $10 million. Rooney said LUSD would use the money to continue to find ways to create student-centered learning opportunities, which fall in line with its progressive Performance Based System.

“We feel there is a close correlation between the model they are looking for and our Performance Based System,” said Rooney.

Implemented throughout the K-12 district two years ago, LUSD’s Performance Based System allows students to shift up or down grade levels by subject area instead of as a whole. Students, or learners as Lindsay calls them, are allowed to learn at their own pace and it allows teachers, or learning facilitators, to teach an entire class of learners at the same level. The system erases the stigma of “being held back” a grade and eliminates “passing on” students to the next grade unless they have demonstrated a comprehension of the material.

FUSD Superintendent Dr. Christina Luna said Farmersville applied for just under $5 million. Luna said Farmersville’s approach is different to Lindsay’s, as it will focus on extending learning time throughout the day and the year.

“Our biggest hurdle is funding,” Luna said. “We have a small community living below the poverty line so we need to capitalize on every relationship with local, state and federal agencies.”

Luna said the money would be used to improve technology in the classroom and provide more technology to students after school. The funding would also be used to implement Summer School for every grade level and offer staff development for teachers during the summer break.

“We are focused on finding ways to have the best equipment, the best staff development and the best school district we can offer to our students,” Luna said.

Two other Tulare County school districts, Sequoia Union High School District and Cutler-Orosi Joint Unified School District, applied for the funding. Sequoia Union applied for $20-30 million while Cutler-Orosi applied for between $5-$10 million.

“I believe the best ideas come from leaders at the local level, and the enthusiastic response to the Race to the Top-District competition highlights the excitement that districts have to engage in locally designed reforms that will directly improve student achievement and educator effectiveness,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “We hope to build on this nationwide momentum by funding districts that have innovative plans to transform the learning environment, a clear vision for reform and a track record of success.”

The Race to the Top is a competitive grant based on how well they can personalize education for all students and is aimed squarely at classrooms and the all-important relationship between teachers and students. The competition will encourage transformative change within schools, providing school leaders and teachers with key tools and support in order to best meet their students’ needs.

The Department has posted the list of those who have indicated their intent to apply on its website: www.ed.gov/programs/racetothetop-district. The list includes all those who submitted an intent to apply and does not indicate their eligibility for the competition. The intent to apply is not binding, and the information collected will be used by the Department primarily to develop an efficient process for reviewing grant applications. Potential applicants that did not submit an intent to apply may still apply for funding

The Department plans to support high-quality proposals from applicants across a variety of districts, including rural and non-rural districts as well as those already participating in a Race to the Top state grant and districts not participating. These 4-year awards will range from $5 million to $40 million, depending on the population of students served through the plan. The Department is expecting to make 15-25 awards.

More information can be found at: www.ed.gov/programs/racetothetop-district. Applications are due Oct. 30, with awards being announced no later than Dec. 31, 2012.

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