When Tennessee was awarded $500 million in federal Race to the Top funding last year, the state took half and divided the rest among local school districts around the state.
Each district received a share of the money, distributed over four years, beginning in March 2010.
Individual district grants ranged from about $45,000 for the Richard City Special School District to $68.6 million for Memphis City Schools.
The Warren County School System received approximately $1.44 million, which amounts to around $360,000 per year over the four-year period.
According to a new report from the state comptroller’s office, school systems spent the money in a variety of ways, with the most common being instructional coaches for teachers ($20 million), leadership training ($17.5 million) and incentive pay plans that reward teachers for exemplary performance or teaching at hard-to-staff schools ($16.9 million).
Warren County is spending the money along similar lines, according to Bonnie Collier, who served as professional and community development coordinator prior to her retirement this summer. Collier says the system spent a major portion of its funds to hire personnel to provide training and support for the new teacher evaluation process recently implemented by the state.
“We divided our money equally between the four years,” Collier said. “This is the second year of it. We mainly funded positions.”
Positions in the Warren County School System funded by Race to the Top dollars include:
• An ESOL (English as a second language) instructional coach
• A new teacher induction coordinator
• Two data analyst positions
• Two part-time systemwide evaluator positions
• Set aside money to fund leadership institutes every summer
• Set aside money to provide training for professional learning communities. PLCs are teams of education professionals, teachers or administrators working together to develop effective educational strategies.
• Hired two interventionists to help in struggling schools in language arts and math, mainly at the high school and middle school.
Collier said some of the money was spent on technology, such as laptops, which will aid in training and evaluation programs.
While the county has used its share of the Race to the Top funding primarily for training, evaluation and staff to support those efforts, there has also been funding available from the state’s share for some counties, but Director of Schools Dr. Jerry Hale says only some of that has been applicable to Warren County, since the system as a whole has been performing well under Race to the Top standards.
“They’ve sent a lot of money to schools that were on the school improvement list,” Hale said. “They’ve done some incentive grants, they’ve done a lot of training and staff development activities that systems could go to. We’ve been to the training, but fortunately we don’t have any schools that are eligible for the Achievement School District. That’s a good thing.”
The Achievement School District is made up of the state’s five worst-performing schools which will come under the control of the state. Chris Barbic, a successful charter school organizer, has been hired to run the new district.
Race to the Top funds are meant to improve public schools by raising educational standards, providing instruction and support to teachers and administrators, helping officials use data to track student progress and turning around the lowest-performing schools.