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NCSS won't apply for state funds

COVINGTON — The Newton County School System won't be using some of the $122 million of federal funds that the state will receive to improve low-achieving schools, even though there are two schools in the county that qualify.

Earlier this month, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced that Georgia will get more than $122 million to turn around its persistently lowest-achieving schools through the School Improvement Grants program. The funds are part of the $3.5 billion made available nationally this year that were set aside in the 2009 budget and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, or stimulus funds.

"When a school continues to perform in the bottom 5 percent of the state and isn't showing signs of growth or has graduation rates below 60 percent, something dramatic needs to be done," Duncan said. "Turning around our worst performing schools is difficult for everyone, but it is critical that we show the courage to do the right thing by kids."

A school listed as Tier III — persistently lowest-achieving that fails to meet Adequate Yearly Progress for two years — is eligible for the funding.

Included on the list of eligible schools in Georgia are two in Newton County — Middle Ridge Elementary School and Indian Creek Elementary School, both listed as Tier III schools.

In 2009, Middle Ridge met Adequate Yearly Progress, which is determined under the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 through state-required testing like the Criterion Referenced Competency Tests and testing participation. But it is still on the state's Needs Improvement list after previously not making AYP for more than two years in a row for such reasons as students not meeting state standards in academic performance, especially in the black and students with disabilities subgroups.

Last year, Indian Creek Middle School did not meet AYP after also not meeting it the year before, placing it on the state's Needs Improvement list. Its students with disabilities subgroup also has struggled to meet state standards.

Both schools must offer either public choice or supplemental educational services through tutoring, as required by the law.

However, NCSS won't apply for the federal funds.

"This is a competitive grant, and we won't be applying for it," said Sherri Viniard, director of Public Relations at NCSS. "The district is in a position to adhere to the grant requirements; therefore, not eligible to qualify for the grant."

Schools that apply for the grant funds must determine implementations based on one of four models:

• Turnaround Model: Replace the principal, screen existing school staff and rehire no more than half the teachers; adopt a new governance structure; and improve the school through curriculum reform, professional development, extending learning time and other strategies.

• Restart Model: Convert a school or close it and reopen it as a charter school or under an education management organization.

• School Closure: Close the school and send the students to higher-achieving schools in the district.

• Transformation Model: Replace the principal and improve the school through comprehensive curriculum reform, professional development, extending learning time and other strategies.