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Education money to pay for existing programs

Clayton County Public Schools officials are planning to use the school system's share of Georgia's $400 million "Race To The Top" education money to pay for existing professional development, and data system, programs, district officials announced on Monday.

The school district will receive $15.26 million as its share of the state's prize from the federal government's "Race To The Top" competition. The money will come in four payments, over a four-year period, state education officials said in early October. Clayton County was one of 26 local school systems that partnered with the state on its "Race To The Top" application.

As a stipulation of participating in the application, the district can only use the money on projects that fit into the following areas: Helping the lowest-performing schools; and focusing on the common core curriculum, longitudinal data systems, and teacher effectiveness.

District officials said they will use the money to fund previously planned academic pathway programs, which have been included in the school system's strategic plan. "It's nothing more than our academic pathways propped up," said Superintendent Edmond Heatley. "'Race To The Top' is nothing more than a pillar to support that."

The "Race To The Top" initiative is a $4 billion national education-funding competition, which was included as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. It is designed to support innovative school improvement projects, and is overseen the U.S. Department of Education.

School System Chief Academic Officer Diana Carry said the district submitted its 96-page scope of work plan to the Georgia Department of Education on Monday. She added the state department will review the plan, and if it approves it, the plan will be submitted to the U.S. Department of Education for further approval.

If federal education officials approve it, the state will provide technical assistance to Clayton County Public Schools, and other participating school systems, to implement "Race To the Top" plans, she said.

Carry said the district is waiting to hear back from officials at the Georgia Department of Education on what kind of programs would be the best to use to improve low-performing schools. "We have to wait till we get a little more information on the best way to deal with that," she said.

Overall, she underscored Heatley's comments that the "Race To The Top" money will be used to make students globally competitive, which is the goal that was laid out last year when the district's mission statement was re-written. She said the district has already fashioned a professional-development plan for teachers, which was recently expanded to include "Hands On, Minds On" professional-development programs in the summer. The new program is designed to bring teachers together to share what works, when it comes to engaging students' minds in the classroom.

Carry also said the district is already using data to guide decisions on how it should move forward in regards to student achievement. "This will accelerate, and fuel the work we have in place in the district," she told school board members. "We will be able to use this money for improving our students' performances on state, national and international assessments, increasing teacher effectiveness, and closing the achievement gap."

Still, one board member said she felt left out of the process of deciding how to best use the district's "Race" money. School Board Member Jessie Goree said she felt board members should have had a chance to help shape the scope of work plan before it was sent to the state for approval.

She also said she wanted more detailed information about how the money was to be spent.

"I would like to know where that $15 million is going," Goree said. Heatley countered, however, pointing out that the district's academic pathways and strategic plans have been presented to the school board "twice, if not three times" over the last year.

School Board Chairperson Alieka Anderson said it is telling that the district already had plans and programs in place to comply with the state's "Race To The Top" application.

"It says we're on point as a district," she said. "I envision this helping us become the No. 1 school district in America, and helping us focus on student achievement."