Schools seek grant to advance ways of teaching

Published 9:46 am Tuesday, May 11, 2010

It’s a way for the classroom to reach out in a collective manner to the business community to make learning relevant and to find a way to generate the most opportunities for students.

That’s why seven school districts in Lawrence and Scioto counties are banding together to seek a multi-million dollar grant over a five-year period to do just that.

“We want to come up with the rural model for school improvement to increase student achievement,” according to Don Washburn, curriculum supervisor for the Lawrence County Educational Services Center. “We have great things going on, but they are in small pockets. Our purpose is to work with the schools and business and economic development and community service agencies.”

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Currently the districts involved are South Point, Chesapeake and Symmes Valley in Lawrence County and Portsmouth City, Northwest, Bloom-Vernon and Green in Scioto County. However, other districts have expressed an interest in the project and may join in the future.

“It takes a collaborative effort in order for us to attract new industry or better meet the needs of the current workforce,” Washburn said. “It will take working together. There are a lot of opportunities for students to learn outside the school walls. We hope to reach out to the community to do joint educational efforts.”

The grant, which was submitted today, is for a total of $5 million over the next five years.

It is federal money through the U.S. Department of Education and is part of the Obama administration stimulus money. A few months ago an informational meeting on the program was held with the seven districts now involved attending.

One of the goals of the program is to reduce the out-migration of youth because of the lack of opportunities.

Another goal of the program is to increase the number of students attending college, especially if they will be the first in their family for post-secondary education. Studies have shown, Washburn said, that students need to be inspired about college early in their academic career.

“We have to reach them and their parents in the early grades, second and third grades,” he said. “It is not only college or any kind of specialized certificates. It is not just going to get a four-year degree. Many of our students may want to stay in this area. We need to do a better job of finding out what are the jobs.”

South Point superintendent Ken Cook sees a major advantage to the program is that it is focused on keeping children in school past graduation.

“This is where a lot of this is geared toward,” Cook said. “In the Appalachian area we are trying to encourage those kids to go beyond high school to do some post secondary work.”

The program will also encourage teachers from other districts to share ideas and teaching techniques to improve their own classroom performance.

“We will have conversations across school districts,” Dr. Scott Howard, Chesapeake school superintendent, said. “I don’t think there have been enough opportunities to talk to teachers about ‘how do you do this.’ To share ideas, to share best practices, to learn together.”

The districts should be notified by mid-June if they have gotten the grant. If so, the program could start in the fall.

“We want to reach out to the community and invite them to be part of learning and engage our kid,” Washburn said. “They can see that real-world connections.”