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Hernando school district drafts plan for Race to the Top federal grant money

BROOKSVILLE — The race is on for the Hernando school district.

But before the district garners its $2.2 million share of Race to the Top federal grant dollars, it must get state approval for a plan to put the money to good use over the next four years.

On Tuesday, the School Board gave its initial approval to a draft plan to improve student performance through strategies ranging from adding career academies to paying more to high-performing teachers.

"We are making excellent progress as a district," board member John Sweeney said.

Among the most significant goals is to develop an evaluation system to pay teachers and administrators based on student performance. The district is already well on its way to developing a system in cooperation with the local teachers union, grant writer Eric Williams told the board; officials started working on such an evaluation with the union earlier this year because the same kind of system is required for separate grants the district is seeking to improve Hernando and Central high schools.

The district must submit a salary schedule that shows how teachers deemed "highly effective" will be paid. The district has budgeted $355,574 of its Race to the Top dollars to bolster salaries.

"Then, once we identify these teachers, we can provide them some monetary awards to continue to serve in the district and hopefully volunteer to move to some of our lower-performing schools," Williams said.

He acknowledged the dollars probably won't be enough to completely cover the performance pay. That worried board member Dianne Bonfield, who wondered whether the new salary schedule would replace the current system that pays teachers an automatic increase each year. The so-called step raise is built into the teachers union contract and cost the district $1.7 million this year.

"I can see one or the other," Bonfield said. "It would be very difficult to do both with the financial situation on the horizon."

Hillsborough County has both kinds of salary schedules, superintendent Bryan Blavatt told the board.

"They did in fact give people an option to go to the one that is more of a merit type of arrangement, and most of them did," Blavatt said.

But Blavatt acknowledged the district might not be able to do both. And he noted that the district will have some flexibility on which strategies to continue, based on its financial constraints.

"We've made a commitment to the concepts here, but not necessarily to continuing it and supporting it at the same rate once the Race to the Top money has dissipated," he said.

Among the other strategies in the plan:

• Improve computer-based student assessment. The district needs to show its ability to electronically gauge student progress, Williams said, so the proposal calls for the addition of two high school assessment labs and two network specialists to support the labs. The budget for equipment and salaries: $590,000.

• Hire a supervisor of school improvement to manage the Race to the Top efforts and support reform at Central and Hernando high schools. Budget for salary: $250,000.

• Expand and improve teacher lesson studies. Teachers would watch other teachers in action and brainstorm ways to improve lesson plans. Budget for substitute teachers to free up teachers to observe their colleagues: $130,000.

• Train additional faculty to teach Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, dual enrollment and career and technical education classes. Budget for extra-duty pay and materials: $111,000.

• Add an engineering career academy at the newly opened Weeki Wachee High and a biomedical sciences academy at Springstead High. Budget for equipment, materials and other costs: $104,651.

In August, Florida won $700 million in the second round of President Barack Obama's ambitious Race to the Top initiative. Florida's plan calls for school districts to help produce big results by 2015, including doubling the percentage of high school students who graduate with at least a year's worth of college credit, cutting in half the state's achievement gap in math and reading, and increasing the number of students performing at or above proficiency levels.

The district submitted a draft proposal to the state last week, and the board will formally vote on the plan at its Nov. 2 meeting. The final draft is due to the state on Nov. 9.

Tony Marrero can be reached at tmarrero@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1431.

Hernando school district drafts plan for Race to the Top federal grant money 10/19/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 19, 2010 11:02pm]

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