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NCSS not expecting 'Race' funds

COVINGTON — The Newton County School System isn't expecting to receive any federal money from a nationwide education reform effort.

Gov. Sonny Perdue announced this week that Georgia was selected as a winner by the U.S. Department of Education for the second round of "Race to the Top" grants. The state is projected to receive $400 million over four years to implement its plan to improve education.

"While this has seemed more like a marathon at times, now the real race begins," Perdue said in a press release. "I want to thank our Race to the Top teams, including teachers, principals, superintendents and other education professionals, for their hard work in preparing a great application. This is truly a unique opportunity to implement a Georgia-created plan that will accelerate our work in improving student achievement."

Twenty-six Georgia school districts signed on to partner with the state in implementing Georgia's Race to the Top plan. These districts, which make up 41 percent of public school students in Georgia, include: Atlanta, Ben Hill, Bibb, Burke, Carrolton, Chatham, Cherokee, Clayton, Dade, DeKalb, Dougherty, Gainesville, Gwinnett, Hall, Henry, Jones, Meriwether, Muscogee, Peach, Pulaski, Rabun, Richmond, Rockdale, Spalding, Valdosta and White.

The participating districts include 46 percent of Georgia's students in poverty, 53 percent of Georgia's black students, 48 percent of Hispanics and 68 percent of the state's lowest achieving schools.

"As I understand things, it will have no immediate impact on NCSS, as we are not one of the Georgia school systems which has opted in," said NCSS Superintendent Gary Mathews.

Recommendations in the state program focus on strengthening traditional and alternative preparation programs for teachers and leaders, supporting teachers more effectively in the classroom, evaluating teachers and leaders with consistent and objective criteria that inform instruction and rewarding great teachers and leaders with performance-based salary increases, according to the state's press release.

The application also calls for Georgia to adopt and implement common curricular standards and internationally benchmarked assessments that indicate Georgia's ability to compete within a globally connected economy. The State Board of Education adopted the standards in July.

The fund is available in the form of competitive grants to encourage and reward states that are creating conditions for education innovation and reform, specifically implementing ambitious plans in four education reform areas:

• Adopting standards and assessments that prepare students to succeed in college and the workplace and to compete in the global economy.

• Building data systems that measure student growth and success, and inform teachers and principals about how they can improve instruction.

• Recruiting, preparing, rewarding and retaining effective teachers and principals, especially where they are needed most.

• Turning around our lowest-achieving schools.

Mathews said he cannot speak to the rationale as to why NCSS did not opt into the Race to the Top initiative, since he was still superintendent of the Williamsburg-James City County in Virginia at the time. However, he said that his previous Virginia school system did not opt into the program because the school board did not want to be obliged to merit pay for teachers and was worried that it could not sustain the monetary investment that the program would initially make in the district after funding ran out.

Sherri Davis-Viniard, director of Public Relations at NCSS, did not respond to e-mails seeking comments about the NCSS participation in the Race to the Top Program.

The state will work closely with the partnered systems to implement the ideas contained in the application.

Half of the funds awarded to Georgia will be distributed to the local partners to enact the Race to the Top reforms. The state will study the effectiveness of these practices to identify and scale up those that prove to be effective.

"I am so pleased that Georgia has been named a winner of Race to the Top," said State Superintendent of Schools Brad Bryant in the press release. "Going for Race to the Top has never been about just the money, but more about further development of our foundation to drive increased student achievement. But now that we have the additional resources, we can put an even greater focus on implementing that foundation for the benefit of Georgia's students."