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Georgia aiming for an education payout

Hall County's Schofield chosen to serve on state committee

POSTED: March 4, 2010 11:34 p.m.
SARA GUEVARA/The Times

J. Gordan, North Hall Middle School honors physical science teacher, hands out a quiz Thursday to her eighth-graders. The U.S. Department of Education named Georgia and 15 others as finalists in the first round of its Race to the Top competition, which will deliver $4.35 billion in school reform initiatives. If Georgia gets a portion of that money, officials plan to use some of it to better evaluate student performance based on test scores and grades.

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Georgia came one step closer on Thursday to getting a slice of the $4.35 billion pie the federal government is offering to states that prove they are committed to education reform and student achievement.

The state was selected as one of 16 finalists from a pool of 41 applicants to enter the next round of interviews for the Race to the Top grant. A delegation of five representatives will visit Washington, D.C., later this month to make another bid for the funds.

Two local educators are on Georgia’s Race to the Top committee, helping in the state’s efforts to secure the funds.

Gov. Sonny Perdue appointed Will Schofield, superintendent of Hall County schools, and Lissa Pijanowski, associate superintendent of Forsyth County schools, to serve on the committee. The comprehensive reform portion of the race comprises four committees: improving standards and assessments, developing great teachers and leaders, creating longitudinal data systems and boosting lowest achieving schools.

If Georgia wins, it stands to gain between $200 million and $400 million in federal funding over a three- to four-year period, according to Kathleen Mathers, executive director for the Governor’s Office for Student Achievement.

And the state already has plans for how it would use the money. Part of the funds would create a system to better track individual student progress and compare Georgia’s students to those in other states using a combination of standardized test scores and grades.

“We have all kinds of plans (for the funding),” Schofield said. “Right now we want to make sure our dreams don’t get ahead of our pocketbooks. We need to be real careful to make sure that we just keep essential services in place.”

Half of Georgia’s pot of funds would be used for statewide initiatives, with the remaining funds distributed to school districts that are already hurting from sweeping budget cuts.

“I’d want to use it to continue to push forward in these economic times,” Schofield said. “It’d give us a real opportunity to keep, for the most part, personnel on hand and to continue to keep offering programs like the Da Vinci Academy and the World Language Academy.”

About $350 million of the grant would be doled out to states who show the most dedication to developing systems that gauge student achievement. The governor already has shown support by implementing the controversial Common Core State Standards, which asks states to develop a curriculum that has at least 85 percent of the standards. A bill currently making its way through the General Assembly also would ask the state board of education to develop a performance evaluation system for teachers and school leaders by next year.

The standards initiative is a state-led process to develop a common core of state criteria in English-language arts and mathematics for grades K-12, according to the initiative’s Web site.

While Forsyth’s school board has taken a wait-and-see approach toward Race to the Top, Pijanowski said about two dozen other districts have signed on to be part of the implementation process, including Hall and Gainesville.

Gainesville schools currently are piloting a new teacher and school leader evaluation assessment called CLASS Keys and Leader Keys evaluation systems, said Superintendent Merrianne Dyer.

“We’ve already started the race,” she said. “The goals we feel most familiar with are standards and assessment, identifying common core standards that are important and assessing the student along the way to measure progress.”

State teachers using the new Keys system are in study groups now to determine its success in evaluating personnel, she added.
“Georgia has a good head start, and that was more than likely one of the stronger components of the application.”

The state’s Race to the Top proposal gained early support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The foundation selected Georgia as one of 15 states that received $250,000 in consultation resources in August.

Other finalists include Colorado, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina and Tennessee. The winners will be chosen in April. Losing states will have another shot at the grant in June, when the U.S. Department of Education reviews a new round of applicants.

But coming in second wouldn’t sit well with Schofield.

“I don’t want round two,” he said. “We want round one because we could use the financial support now.”



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