August 29, 2014

Elyria
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$250 million for new programs in the classroom up for grabs in Ohio

Educators who want to try something new in their classrooms to boost student achievement will have access to a $250 million pot of money the state has set aside for new programs.

The application process is still in its infancy with the newly appointed governing board over the Straight A Fund just announcing this week that it is ready to accept applications, but the guidelines have made one thing clear — districts that want some of the money will have to come up with the most creative and forward-thinking ideas.

“We believe that many educators and administrators are eager for transformation and have the innovative spirit needed to improve student achievement and increase school and district operational efficiencies,” said Richard A. Ross, superintendent of public instruction. “We are encouraging these local educators to propose ideas they can lead — or be part of — that will help our schools be more creative, effective and efficient.”

Locally, many districts are already thinking they will apply for the grant, which has been touted as the largest statewide, competitive innovation fund in the history of American education. Officials in Amherst, Elyria, Keystone, Lorain, Avon and Columbia are already thinking they could use some of the money.

“We will most likely submit a grant application with a focus on technology,” said Amherst Superintendent Steve Sayers.

Cash-strapped Columbia, which has a life-or-death operating levy on the November ballot, hopes it can strengthen its chances by teaming up with Avon and Keystone. Exactly what the three districts hope to accomplish with the money is yet to be determined – the three districts will meet in the coming days to hash out a proposal.

“We don’t know what yet, but we’re looking for something that will definitely benefit the kids of our district,” said Columbia Superintendent Graig Bansek.

The Straight A Fund will allow local educators to pursue three goals, significant advancement in raising student achievement, significant advancement in reducing spending and significant advancement in targeting more resources to the classroom. The innovations must be sustainable so student achievement and operational effectiveness can continue after the money is used.

“The Straight A Fund governing board will pay special attention to proposals that promote sustainability, efficiency and effectiveness and involve innovative new ways of teaching and learning,” said board chairman Alex Fischer.

Lorain Superintendent Tom Tucker, who is in the midst of pulling his district out from under the watchful eye of an Academic Distress Commission, said Lorain’s application will focus mainly on ways to improve student achievement. The district’s last state report card showed some improvement over the one handed down by the state in 2012, but more progress is needed to turn the tide of below state standard test scores.

Once applications are submitted they will be score by education experts from around the state and nation and the grants will ultimately be awarded by the nine-member governing board.

Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or lroberson@chroniclet.com.