Sunday, February 25, 2018
Education

Pinellas schools hope for Bill and Melinda Gates grant

LARGO — School officials are awaiting word on whether they have secured a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to plan for the opening of a new "incubator" high school with a focus on personalized education and technology.

The $691,217 grant also would pay for pilot programs in at least four traditional high schools.

Pinellas County School District officials traveled to Texas in late January to make their pitch. They expect to hear soon whether they were successful.

Despite discussing the grant at a workshop in January and having the proposal officially approved by the School Board in February, school officials declined to discuss the details with the Tampa Bay Times.

A grant application from last year, however, outlines a plan for 2015 in which the school district would seek to enroll about 1,400 students in the new high school — dubbed Pinellas New Tech High — and eight "school within a school" models in traditional high schools. The new high school initially would offer admission to about 200 ninth- and 10th-graders.

The high schools housing the new programs would be selected through a "competitive selection process," according to district documents.

The new high school and the school within a school programs would have a focus on one-on-one instruction and project-based studies, greater access to technology, and instruction tailored to the individual child.

It's a strategy that has been supported by the Gates foundation through its Next Generation Systems Initiative, which gave grants last year to 20 school systems nationwide, including Pinellas County. Lake County was the only other Florida school system included. Hillsborough County has a multiyear $100 million grant from the Gates foundation to develop a teacher evaluation system.

Pinellas received $64,518 from the Gates foundation to start tackling administrative details related to the project. That money has paid for a project manager, retired school administrator Alec Liem, consulting fees, travel and some supplies.

As part of that initial effort, Pinellas joined forces with New Tech Network, a California-based nonprofit focused on personalized learning. Only one New Tech Network school operates in Florida, although the nonprofit has about 130 schools in 23 states.

Cara Fitzpatrick can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8846.

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