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Manassas City Schools Enter Race for Federal Education Grant

High Stakes Competition Could Earn Schools $10 million grant.

The Manassas school district is preparing to apply for a high-stakes federal education grant that would trigger a system-wide change in the way that the district’s 7,000 students are taught, officials told the school board Tuesday night.

District officials are scrambling to meet an Oct. 30 deadline for the Education Department’s Race to the Top grant, which will distribute about $400 million for up to 24 winners, said Michaelene Meyer, deputy superintendent for curriculum. Competition for the grants will be stiff because more than 800 school districts have indicated that they will apply for the 24 awards—meaning the winners will represent just 2 percent of all applicants.

“All I can say is good for you,” board member Ellen M. Purdy told district officials. “This is just huge and it’s going to be exciting.”

Awards vary according to the size of the district. Smaller districts like Manassas would qualify for grants of as much as $10 million. The competition is focused on issues such as student achievement; higher-order skills; competency-based pathways; collective capacity of educators; the dynamic use of data; and the development and dissemination of rich instructional tools and use of technology.

The feds have already distributed about $4 billion in previous rounds that are intended to spur K-12 education reform. This round of grants is different because individual school districts, not just states, are eligible to apply for the funding directly. And, the U.S. Department of Education has added a new wrinkle in the competition—district school teachers must buy into the grant application.

The school district won’t move ahead unless it gets 70 percent of the teachers at the impacted schools (Metz Middle School, Mayfield Intermediate School and Osbourn High School) to vote in favor the application, Meyer said. Two of the schools had already approved the application by Tuesday night.

“The important thing is that the teachers are involved in this and that we have brought them in,” said Pamela J. Sebesky, a board member. “It’s important to have those on the front line involved.”

Incoming Superintendent Catherine Magouyrk, who was hired by the district this summer, said she was adamant that teachers be part of the reform effort.

“The day has come for us to listen to our teachers in our classrooms,” Magouyrk said. “This is our chance to develop 21st century schools. We are putting in place where we want to go with our schools and our students.”

Magouyrk noted that the school system may have a leg up on the competition because many of the reforms required in the application package are already either in place or being planned for city schools. For example, the district already meets the requirements for how it evaluates its teaching staff.

If the process goes as planned, district officials will seek the board’s approval on the application at a board meeting next month, Magouyrk said.

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