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Rock Hill receives race to the top money

Rock Hill Local Schools will receive several thousand dollars in federal grant funds over the next few years. The school district recently learned it is one of about 100 districts that have been approved so far to receive Race to the Top funds.

The district will receive $145,000 each year over the next four years.

Of the 528 Ohio school districts that applied for the funds, six have been approved without condition, 98 including Rock Hill were approved with conditions, and 396 applications were returned to the districts for revisions. Twenty-eight school districts withdrew from the competition. Fairland Local Schools is among the 396 districts that are waiting to hear if the revisions to their applications will be accepted.

Race to the Top is a federal grant program that is being awarded through the Ohio Department of Education.

The district appointed a team of teachers and administrators to develop the district’s four-year plan for the grant. The team consists of Eric Floyd and Kathy Bowling, assistant superintendents; John Stevens, Lorna Besco and Chris Craft, teachers; and Dee Travis, grant writer and literacy coordinator.

In order to receive the funds, the teachers union, school board and superintendent each had to sign off on the project.

The team spent countless hours putting the application and plan together.

“It seemed like a gigantic mountain when we first sat here at the first meeting,” Stevens said. The team took it one step at a time, he said. “ A lot of districts looked at that mountain and said forget about it.”

On a statewide level, the goals for Race to the Top include increasing high school graduation rates, reducing graduation rate gaps by 50 percent, reducing performance gaps by 50 percent, reducing the gap between Ohio and the best-performing states in the nation by 50 percent and more than doubling the projected increase in college enrollment of students aged 19 and below.

Part of the plan also includes assessing teachers on a yearly basis, said Scott Blake, press secretary for the department of education. Part of the assessment would be based on student achievement.

Another focus will be to revamp the schools’ curriculum to keep it in line with the state’s new standards. Schools will be required to test on the changes starting in 2014.

Keeping the teachers, administrators and the board informed of the progress of the program is important, Travis said.

“We really want this to be transparent, no surprises,” she said.

Schools superintendent Wes Hairston said the district is blessed to have the support of the teachers union for the project.

“There’s a lot of trust between the teachers and the administrators,” Hairston said. “They understood it was a way to make us better at what we do.”

The entire school board also supported the project, he said.

“It was a district wide initiative,” Hairston said. “We’re pleased.”