Rockdale school system renews bid for Race to the Top funds

CONYERS — Rockdale County Public Schools will resubmit its application for millions of dollars in federal grant funds.

Superintendent Rich Autry told Board of Education members Thursday night that the system will seek $25 million in Race to the Top district grant funds from the U.S. Department of Education.

Autry reminded board members that the school district came close to winning a $30 million district grant award in 2012, scoring higher than any other district in Georgia and missing the mark by just 7 points. Rockdale was among four school districts in Georgia that were named finalists for the grant awards in 2012. None of the Georgia districts was selected to receive the funds.

Autry emphasized that the Race to the Top district grants go to the school systems and are not administered by another agency.

“It’s important to realize that this is a ‘district grant,’ that this money comes directly to the district,” said Autry. “This money is not filtered through the Department of Education, this is not a Department of Education plan that we have to comply with. This is our local plan that the cabinet .. that many of our coordinators have worked very hard on.”

The RCPS grant proposal calls for development of more specialty options, such as Rockdale Career Academy and the Rockdale Magnet School for Science and Technology, and for further funding of early learning initiatives and the STARS community partnership.

Autry said he believes the district’s grant proposal is a strong one.

“There was affirmation (of the grant proposal), but also a little bit of disappointment last year,” said Autry. “But we were affirmed (on) where we want to go with personalized learning with choice options and specialty options — some of the things you’ve seen us do already on a small scale … that concept definitely had a lot of legs to it, a lot of traction … “

Autry said continued pursuit of the Race to the Top grants is part of good stewardship for the school district.

“We try to seek and touch any type of revenue stream that we can that fits in line with what we want to move forward with in terms of our strategic plan,” he said.

Autry said he will request letters of support for the grant application from the board, members of the Superintendent’s Advisory Council and dignitaries statewide who have been supportive of the Rockdale school district.

The U.S. Department of Education finalized the application for 2013 Race to the Top district grants in July. The grants will provide nearly $120 million to support locally directed improvements in learning and teaching that directly improve student achievement and educator effectiveness.

According to the DOE, Race to the Top, launched in 2009, “has inspired dramatic education reform nationwide, leading 46 states and the District of Columbia to pursue higher college- and career-ready standards, data-driven decision-making, greater support for teachers and leaders, and turnaround interventions in low-performing schools.”

The 2013 Race to the Top grant competition asks districts to demonstrate how they can personalize education for all students and is aimed at classrooms and the relationship between teachers and students. Grantees will be selected based on their vision and capacity for reform as well as a strong plan that provides educators with resources to accelerate student achievement and prepare students for college and careers.