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$600,000 grant may help schools' shortfall
Ann Conner teaches a lesson to her New Holland Core Knowledge Academy thrid grade class using a Promethean Interactive Classroom System. The system is a teaching tool that could be purchased for more classrooms with money from a $600,000 grant. - photo by Tom Reed

The State Board of Education awarded the Gainesville school system $600,000 in federal grant funds to support the development of the system’s charter school system.

In June, the Gainesville school system was one of the first five school systems in the state to receive charter school system status. And on Oct. 9, the state granted the system the full grant amount to assist the system in implementing charter programs at its seven schools.

Shirley Whitaker, assistant superintendent of Gainesville schools, said the $600,000 grant will be split evenly between the five elementary schools, one middle school and one high school in the system. The funds will be used to define educational goals for the system, to devise methods to measure progress toward achieving those goals, to fund the professional development of teachers and other initial operating costs. Each school will receive more than $42,000 in grant funds this year and another $42,000 next year.

"With our deficit, this couldn’t have come at a better time," Whitaker said.

The Gainesville school board has been trying to cut costs to chip away at its $5.6 million deficit. Whitaker said the $600,000 charter school system grant helps alleviate the pain of absorbing the roughly $600,000 in pending state cuts for which the school system is bracing.

Since the school system has operated with charter schools for years now, Whitaker said a large portion of the grant will be used to purchase technology for the school system, such as interactive smart boards for classrooms. The school system also received a $125,000 grant in June for its new charter school system status and used the funds for technology.

"The charter system gives you some waivers from what the state requires," Whitaker said. "(The federal and state governments) expect you to do some innovative things with the money."

At New Holland Core Knowledge Academy, for example, this year’s charter grant will be spent on a nearly $22,000 math computer program for students, math books with a $777 total price tag and support materials for science students in pre-kindergarten through fifth grade that will cost nearly $16,000. More than $4,000 of the remaining funds will be spent on graphic organizers to develop a learning system for English language learners.

Jill Goforth, principal of New Holland Core Knowledge Academy, said the grant award is huge for the school.

"This grant is going to give us access to a lot more tools that we need," she said.

Goforth said one of the new tools she’s most excited about is the "Classwork" math computer program that quizzes students on state math standards with which they are struggling.

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