Metro makes plans to spend Race to the Top funds

Tuesday, June 22, 2010 at 11:30pm

With Tennessee slated to receive $500 million in federal Race to the Top funds, the school board last night approved a proposal that outlines how Metro Nashville Public Schools would use its portion of the funds.

Under the federal program, half of the money allocated to Tennessee will go to the state’s department of education, with the other half divvied up among school systems across the state. In Metro, $30.3 million is expected to come in over four years. The district can apply for additional funds.

“Finally, Race to the Top has reached where the rubber meets the road,” said school board member Mark North. “Tennessee won Race to the Top, but it’s a hollow victory unless it reaches the classroom and actually results in improved academic achievement.”

Under the plan, MNPS would establish a committee to oversee the use of funds.

According to Metro officials, all funds would be devoted to boost four categories: standards and assessments, data systems, teachers and leaders, and turning around low-performing schools.

A large portion of the money, under Metro’s proposal, would go to the professional development of teachers to train them in transitioning to new student assessment tests. The state of Tennessee has agreed to partner with other states to adopt common assessments, which would judge all students across state boundaries by the same benchmarks.

Under Metro’s Race to the Top plan, the district would also hire 12 “data coaches,” with one being assigned to each of the district’s 12 clusters. Their jobs would be to work with Metro schools to take better advantage of statistical data available to teachers and principals.

In addition, the proposal adopted by the school board would contract CSS International to make recommendations for the district’s human resource management system. The idea would be to help recruit and retain better teachers.

Metro’s Race to the Top proposal also calls for a career development institute that would target promising new teachers and a master’s program at Vanderbilt University that would train teachers for struggling middle schools.

Other highlights of the district’s plan include a leadership program for prospective principals; the creation of a “turnaround team,” which would design strategies to assist struggling schools; and the installment of new model classrooms that would bring instructional technology to high poverty schools.