Last school year Galt residents held bake sales, car washes and spaghetti feeds to raise money to keep school libraries open for limited hours, most of the school year.
This year the 3,855 students in the Galt Joint Union Elementary School District have high-tech libraries equipped with laptops, staffed with technicians and open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. each weekday.
Galt residents didn't have to get out the spatulas to fund the new Bright Future Learning Centers. Instead, they were paid for with federal Race to the Top dollars awarded in December.
The $10 million grant also is paying for wireless infrastructure at schools, computers for classrooms and staff, a personalized learning program for each student, home visits for high-need pre-kindergarten students and 33 new positions.
Superintendent Karen Schauer said the district will now offer a blend of direct instruction and computer instruction – designed to meet each child's needs and to free teachers up for more one-on-one time with students.
Schauer said district residents had lobbied for improved technology in the schools.
The district is outfitting each learning center with 40 Chromebook laptops this year. By the end of the grant in 2016, the centers should each have 120 Chromebooks, Schauer said. Classrooms will have 10 Chromebooks this school year, and additional computers each year.
The increased technology will help district students to "be 21st-century" learners, said Jennifer Collier, the district's new extended-learning coordinator.
Now the six learning centers, which debuted July 8, are open to both students and their families. Collier envisions the centers as community hubs, with mentoring and adult literacy programs, among other programs.
"They are here to serve our families," she said.
Third-grader Hanna Heaton sat at a table in the Bright Future Learning Center at River Oaks Elementary School last week with a cluster of other girls. They looked up facts about France on laptops and listened to French music. The girls each answered a question about France before having their "passport" stamped with an Eiffel Tower.
Hanna said she enjoys her daily trips to the learning center, particularly taking part in the craft sessions and reading new books.
Her mother, Heather Heaton, has been concerned about whether the district would be able to afford to keep the libraries open. Last school year, she donated clothes for the rummage sale, books for a book drive and bought ice cream at a fundraiser in an effort to keep the libraries open.
She was happy with the library's transformation. "As a family, we're very excited," Heather Heaton said.
Schauer said the community effort to reopen the libraries – after the district ran short of funds last school year – demonstrated that Galt is "committed to these libraries and to work together.
"We wanted to sustain them, but was that good enough? We took this need and pushed the envelope," she said.
Schauer said learning centers are important because many families in the district are low-income and don't have Internet access.
High-tech learning centers with international themes aren't the biggest changes the federal grant brings to the district.
All of the district's students – including pre-K students – will be assessed and given a personalized learning plan to guide their instruction.
"We want to maximize learning for every student," she said.
The federal funds also will pay for 33 positions – some new, some redesigned. The jobs include 12 technicians to staff the learning centers, a personalized learning plan administrator (principal) and secretary at each school, an instructional technology integration coordinator and secretary, three coaches to support teachers, a counselor, a social worker and a service learning coordinator. Collier also is paid with the grant.
The grant funding for the district's principals allows the district to afford to pay for six vice principals – a luxury it hasn't had for four years.
The Galt award is part of nearly $400 million that the U.S. government is granting to school districts that have developed plans to personalize and deepen student learning, improve student achievement, close achievement gaps and prepare students to succeed in college and their careers, according to federal officials. The district was selected from 372 applicants.