Ryan Scott Ottney
PDT Staff Writer
Wheelersburg School is using a federal grant to prepare its teachers and administrators for new education reform and evaluation standards that will be required of all K-12 school districts beginning next year.
Announced by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in 2009, Race to the Top is a federal grant program to help qualifying K-12 school districts meet new education reform standards through professional development. The program was funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, and provides $4.35 billion to participating schools in the United States.
Wheelersburg is one of six school districts participating in Scioto County, along with Sciotoville, Northwest, Bloom Vernon, Green, and New Boston.
“We had to create a score of work, which was our application to be able to get the funding,” said first grade teacher Jodi Ruby. “It was so detailed, we had to submit a budget to tell them if we received the funding how we would spend that each year. The nice thing with the grant is if you don’t spend that money in the first year, it gets to carry over into the next.”
After a lengthy application process, Wheelersburg received $325,000 over their four-year grant period (2010-14). According to the district, their goals are to use the funding to provide more thorough professional development and evaluations which will reduce achievement gaps, increase high school graduation rates and increase college enrollment.
“We have a whole new teacher evaluation system in the state of Ohio, and Race to the Top has provided funds for professional development for our teachers, so they’ll know what’s coming down the pike as far as what they’ll be evaluated on,” said Wheelersburg Elementary Principal Angela Holmes.
Using the grant money, among other things, the school is able to employ substitute teachers while faculty participate in professional development programs. The district was also able to purchase new iPads with teacher evaluation software that allows them to instantly assess the teacher’s performance and deliver them a report.
Holmes said the new standards require K-12 school districts to thoroughly evaluate every teacher, every year.
“Before we had a one-page teacher evaluation system, that looked more at things like, ‘Were you on time?’ ‘Are you professional?’ ‘Do you handle your professional responsibilities, like paperwork, on time?’ It really looked more at things like that, than actually at the meat of teaching,” Holmes said.
“This is the new teacher evaluation system,” she said, producing a six-page flowsheet of fine-print, complicated questions.
Teachers will also be required to write a growth plan at the end of each evaluation, identifying areas they would like to improve in the next year. Holmes said teachers preforming at or above proficient levels will be permitted to write their own plans, but those performing below the proficient level will have them written by a supervisor.
“The new teacher evaluation system doesn’t actually take into effect until next school year, but they’re doing some piloting of it right now,” Ruby said. “The nice thing about being part of Race to the Top is we’re actually getting to have input in how this is all going to take place in 2014.”
Eighth grade history teacher Chris Skiver said the grant helps the district be financially prepared for upcoming federally-mandated reforms. Without the grant, he said, he doesn’t know how the school could have done it.
“These changes are going to happen to all schools in Ohio, and by getting in early and being accepted to get the grant, we’re getting funding to make these changes. So other schools that aren’t participating, this stuff’s coming and they may not have the funds,” he said.
More information about Wheelersburg’s Race to the Top program, including a blog and core meeting activities, can be found on the school website, at www.wheelersburg.net.
Ryan Scott Ottney can be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 287, or email@example.com.