published Thursday, August 26th, 2010

Polk cash to go for tech push in schools

By Paul Leach

Correspondent

The Polk County school system plans to invest $453,627 in recently awarded Race to the Top funds in classroom technology and in training its teachers to implement data-driven instruction.

The federal Race to the Top program funds school district initiatives to measure and improve the performance of teachers and prepare students for success in college and work.

While most school systems budgeted their Race to the Top money for four years, Polk County successfully requested two years of funding be paid in the first year. The county will receive $233,627 in the first year and $110,000 in the second and third years.

“We need the technology now, and we would need the training as soon as possible,” said federal programs supervisor Jill Swafford.

Key items for the first year include 17 interactive whiteboards that allow teachers to enrich the classroom environment. Each teacher who receives a new board is required to attend three-day training courses.

“Every teacher in the county wants one now,” Swafford said.

The school system will spend nearly $49,000 for professional development of its teachers, she said. That includes training for the state’s evaluation process, formative assessments and new technologies.

BY THE NUMBERS

* Total Race to the Top money — $453,627

* Fund CARDS positions — $330,000*

* Buy 17 interactive whiteboards — $60,000

* Technology training for teachers — $48,627

* Expand PCHS graduation coach hours — $15,000

* CARDS positions funded for three years — $110,000 per year

Source: Polk County Schools

Most of Polk County’s Race to the Top money will fund CARDS (Curriculum, At-Risk, Data Specialist) positions. The specialists train teachers on how to use performance data to identify at-risk students and develop instruction accordingly.

The CARDS positions were created with American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds in the 2009-10 school year. Ms. Swafford reported the program has achieved “tremendous gains,” and she said it needed to continue until all Polk County teachers were trained to use data effectively to drive their instruction. Only 15 percent of the county’s teachers now have received CARDS training.

Race to the Top funds also have increased hours for graduation coaching at Polk County High School. The coach helps students to keep on track for graduation, and the position’s tools include online courses and after-school curriculum.

“It is important we target the seniors who need a graduation plan or intervention as soon as possible,” said Jason Bell, principal of Polk County High School.

Paul Leach is based in Cleveland, Tenn. E-mail him at paul.leach.press@gmail.com.

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