Galt schools in line for $10 million in federal funds

Published: Friday, Dec. 7, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 1B

Galt Joint Union Elementary School District may be on the verge of becoming $10 million richer.

The school district of 3,972 students has been selected as a finalist for a share of $400 million of federal Race to the Top funds, the U.S. Department of Education announced last week. "Ten million dollars is huge for us," said Karen Schauer, district superintendent. "We are ready to take the work we are doing and to take it to another level in Galt."

The money would personalize learning for the district's diverse population of students, which includes a large number of English language learners, special education and low-income students. This will allow educators to find the best way to teach each child, Schauer said.

The district, which had a $29 million budget this school year, would get the funds over four years.

The program laid out by the district in its application includes learning centers at school libraries and a plan of continued improvement that includes evaluations of teachers, principals and the superintendent, Schauer said.

Each learning center – part of a network to be dubbed Bright Futures Learning Centers – would feature electronic as well as traditional resources. Schauer said the centers would be open into the evening to accommodate families.

The new learning centers also would likely save the libraries, which have been kept open by community fundraisers since the district cut funding due to budget cuts.

Some of what the district proposed in its 400-plus-page application was already in the works at the tiny district. The teachers union and district officials had worked together to come up with an evaluation system they are piloting this year.

And Galt has an academic track record of improvement – another requirement of the grant. Schauer said the district has steadily improved its test scores the last five years and said each of its six schools has an individual Academic Performance Index score over the 800 target set by the state.

Schauer is passionate about the work her district is doing. "School systems need to rethink and rethink now," she said. "Having grant funds will help us to move forward at the speed we are capable of going."

Galt is one of four California school districts and 61 nationwide that have been named finalists in the Race to the Top-District program. Fifteen to 25 winners are expected to be selected for awards that range from $5 million to $40 million, said federal officials.

Awards will be announced by Dec. 31.

The Race to the Top-District program is meant to support local programs to personalize student learning, improve student achievement and educator effectiveness, close achievement gaps and prepare students for college and careers, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

The 61 finalists were selected from 372 applications the department received in November.

"These finalists are setting the curve for the rest of the country with innovative plans to drive education reform in the classroom," said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in a prepared statement.

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