Funds were awarded to school systems agreeing to implement additional reforms in line with First to the Top ideology. Bradley County Schools was awarded $101,600. Cleveland City Schools was awarded $88,000.
School systems were given a list of options that would qualify them for the funding,
Jeff Elliott, supervisor of instruction K-12 for Cleveland City Schools, said the system was already meeting several of the options needed to qualify for the funds. These options include a special education component; constructive response assessments; and administration attendance at Common Core curriculum leadership training.
“The special education is completed over the course of a couple years. It is not just a one-year commitment,” Elliott explained. “We are already working to meet that goal.”
Supervisor of Student Services Dr. Joy Hudson has been working with teachers throughout the system to move more of the special education students into the general education classrooms for up to 80 percent of the day. The model currently being pursued is co-teaching by placing a general education teacher and a special needs educator in the same classroom.
A component being added by CCS is feedback provided by students. Students will be filling out surveys to offer their perspective.
“We want to hear from our students, as well as our parents and teachers,” Elliott said. “We want to hear about what is going on in the schools.”
Elliott added, “Our motto is every child, every day, so we need to hear from them.”
Bradley County Schools federal projects director Terri Murray said the system chose to have one yearly teacher observation be a co-observation in order to qualify for the funds.
Teachers are observed multiple times a year under the Coach evaluation model. One of these observations will now include a supervisor or instructional coach in addition to the principal.
The Bradley County school system had considered adopting a student survey as part of the teacher evaluation or to have a co-observation for all level one teachers.
Murray said in the end the system felt having an additional observer in one evaluation observation for every teacher was the best option.
The systems have different plans for using the funding.
BCS will be focusing on professional development.
“What we really plan to do with that is we are doing additional reading training for our primary teachers,” Murray said.
This eight-month, one-night a month program includes homework and classroom activities teachers are required to complete. Teachers will receive a stipend from for participating.
Murray said the school system hoped to provide teachers with further resources to build a strong foundation for readers in their classrooms.
The funding will also provide the opportunity to have retired teachers serve as mentor teachers to those the schools feel could benefit from it.
“Any new teacher that gets hired is assigned a mentor, but this is actually paying someone to help refine and help with maybe areas where there is a deficit,” Murray said.
Some more experienced teachers will also serve as mentors.
Common Core summer training will also be provided through the funds.
‘We have had Common Core training from the state the past two summers, but not every teacher got to go to that. What we are trying to do is make it so that every teacher that wants to can go,” Murray said.
The money received from the Race to the Top funds by Cleveland City Schools will be used to further prepare for the upcoming Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers Assessment by purchasing technology and equipment.
The new test, set to replace the current Tennessee Comprehen-sive Assessment Program, will be completely online. Students from the third grade through 12th will take the assessment.
The laptops and additional equipment will also be used throughout the year in the classrooms.
“One of our big pushes is to expose our students at a younger age to get them feeling more comfortable with the computers and keyboards,” Elliott said.
The administrator said he felt students would be prepared for the new assessment.
“For our school system, I feel like we are moving forward at a good pace. I think we are leading the way...based off the intermediate status we received and the opportunity to share with other systems about what we are doing,” Elliott explained. “I feel really good about where we are right now, and it is all because of the hard work of our teachers and staff. It is touch right now, but they are doing a good job.”
Race to the Top is a national grant program providing funding for reform in education. In Tennessee, this initiative is called First to the Top and is in its fourth year. States receive funds from the federal government, which are then made available to local school systems through an application process.
Throughout the state $8 million in supplemental funding has been awarded this year.