Local schools still in Race to the Top

MARIETTA – While dozens of school districts and charter schools around the state are calling it quits on Race to the Top and its accompanying funding, local schools participating in the initiative have no intention of joining them.

“There have been some parts of it that are less than palatable, but not so much that we want to give the money back,” Belpre City Schools Superintendent Tony Dunn said.

Belpre will receive a total of nearly $228,000 over four years from the federal program aimed at raising graduation rates and student test scores.

Some of the districts withdrawing have cited the new state teacher evaluation system and other initiatives they say increase their costs as reasons for dropping out. Schools say they often have to remove teachers from classrooms to train them to meet grant mandates, and administrators get tied up spending hours on progress reports.

The evaluation system, which ties 50 percent of a teacher’s performance review to student achievement, is expected to require much more time from administrators than the current method. Districts participating in Race to the Top are required to implement it in the 2013-14 school year, and changes made by recent legislation mean they will have to re-bargain portions of it with teachers’ unions.

But withdrawing from Race to the Top only delays implementation by one year.

“Race to the Top has been a very positive influence in helping us get through the … project,” Frontier Local Schools Superintendent Bruce Kidder said.

Frontier teachers participating in the piloting of the evaluation system receive a $300 stipend and administrators a $500 one, he said.

Kidder agreed participation in the overall program can be time-consuming, although he believes it’s worth it.

“Only thing I have against Race to the Top is the paperwork’s incredible,” he said.

Kidder added dealing with the requirements of the program will be easier next year, when many initiatives must be in place and training completed.

Every public school district in Washington County – with the exception of Fort Frye – participates in Race to the Top. And all of those but Frontier receive additional assistance that eases the burden felt by other districts in the state, thanks to the Ohio Appalachian Collaborative, a group of 22 schools organized by the nonprofit Battelle for Kids.

The OAC receives its own Race to the Top funding, which pays for training and helps with the development of scopes of work that districts must submit to the state, said Wolf Creek Local Superintendent Bob Caldwell.

“We’re not alone when we’re writing these initiatives,” he said.

Wolf Creek receives $25,000 a year in Race to the Top funds. That money has been used for the purchase of classroom equipment like iPads, as well as professional development and classroom strategies, Caldwell said.

Overall, Caldwell said he’s pleased with what the district is able to accomplish through Race to the Top.

“Anything that improves and gives the opportunity to improve instructional practices I have to view as being beneficial to our young people,” he said.

Tasha Werry, Race to the Top and Teacher Incentive Fund coordinator for Marietta City Schools, said the program puts a lot on the district’s plate, but the funding helps to manage it.

“We have so many initiatives going on at the same time, which makes it so difficult to focus on any one of them,” she said. “We realize now that it’s giving us the funds to move forward with all these.”

The Associated Press contributed.