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January 20, 2010 > Fremont seeks 'Race to Top' funds

Fremont seeks 'Race to Top' funds

By Miriam G. Mazliach

Five billion dollars has been committed to schools nationwide through the U.S. Department of Education's 'Race to the Top' (RTTT), and of that total, $350-$500 million are a possibility for California school districts.

Fifty percent of the RTTT funds will be targeted to school districts or charter schools, aka 'Local Educational Agencies' (LEAs), based on their number of Title I eligible students, living near or at poverty levels.

To proceed with the application process for these funds, a meeting was held by the FUSD Board of Education on January 6, to consider approval of filing a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU).

Previously, to qualify, a non-binding letter of intent was submitted by Fremont Unified School District, prior to the December 31 deadline.

At this time when schools everywhere are struggling to provide educational opportunities within the harsh realities of state deficits and loss of funding resources, the RTTT is seen as a golden opportunity.

Money from RTTT would be allocated for only one time only and divided over four years.

Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Milt Werner explained during the meeting that approximately 700 LEAs have applied for the funds. January 8 is the deadline for the next step of submitting the MOU. Four signatures are requested, with two being required; these would be the signatures of Werner and a state official, such as Jack O'Connell, California's Superintendent of Public Instruction. Additional signatures from the President of Fremont's School Board and the President of the local Teacher's Union, could give the application extra clout.

Elements of MOU state that the LEA would agree to implement the state's reform plan and collaborate to create detailed work plans, goals and performance measures.

According to Werner, "The State and Federal government themselves don't have a plan for schools to follow. They want us to ask and show how we can achieve this."

Sticking points of the Reform Plan are elements that call for the evaluation of teachers and principals as well as the potential removal of those deemed ineffective.

Parvin Ahmadi, Assistant Superintendent of Instruction, sees the funding opportunity as a bonus for Fremont's schools and teachers. "We are looking for more professional development and collaboration time for teachers and school leaders, to work together and learn together by creating lessons together. Teachers need collaboration time, map curriculum training time, and new text adoption training. We need money to put these things into place. It's a growth model as we look forward," says Ahmadi.

In regard to the plan's requirements for program evaluation of student growth Ahmadi explains, "We can show our efforts in closing the achievement gap. We finally have a data system, professional learning committees, professional development in Science, Math and Language Arts and focused intervention. A lot of what the State is looking for, we're already doing. The State recognizes Fremont as a high performing school district.

Speaking on the issue of proceeding with the MOU application, Julie Dunkle of Intel Corp., which has committed $200 million toward supporting teacher training stated, "If you don't apply now, you'll lose it. The District has instituted New Math, but because of funding, teachers haven't had the training they need.

"We have concerns and it feels like the State is trying to erode local schools," said Brannin Dorsey, President of the California Teacher's Association. "We also have some concerns regarding staff time to prepare the applications for RTTT. It's one time money and maybe we should look at other avenues."

"The application process is still being figured out," said Werner. "We can make a decision later whether to proceed or to pull out. This is the preliminary work to re-authorize, 'No Child Left Behind' regarding criteria and standards. We believe that the State will be depending on LEAs like us and we will be in on the first conversations. If selected we're going to be able to guide this process to the benefit of Fremont."

"I am very comfortable that this is the direction we should be going," said Lara York, School Board President. "There is support. If we can get money to help teachers, that will make us stronger. We need to have trust here at home to be able to then work with the State. It's clear that if it doesn't work for us, we can get out. I am very excited about the possibility of getting to do more. As a parent, I see programs other schools are able to do but we can't because we don't have the same funds. It's frustrating."

After discussion was over, the motion to proceed with the MOU passed with 5 ayes from the Board members.

Dr. Werner and his staff will work on getting the signatures and will be notified whether or not the California Teacher's Association will decide to sign. After the submission of the MOU, the district has 90 days plus the grace period to tweak and work up the plan, as well as to work with groups for input and information.

Editor's Note: Brannin Dorsey, President of Fremont Unified District Teachers Association added her signature to the MOU application.

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