Hartford Seeks $30M In Federal Race To The Top Money
City Among Five Connecticut School Districts Applying For Funds
By VANESSA DE LA TORRE
October 26, 2012
HARTFORD —— A tablet computer for every city high school student?
That's the plan if Hartford wins a federal Race to the Top grant worth up to $30 million over four years, a potential boon that could mean personal technology for thousands of students and their teachers.
Such a possibility, however, is a big "if."
The U.S. Department of Education's latest initiative to spur education reform is expected to award 15 to 25 grants totaling nearly $400 million to winning school districts. About 900 school systems across the country have indicated they will apply by the Oct. 30 deadline.
In Connecticut, they include Bridgeport, New Haven, Norwalk and the Capitol Region Education Council, said Jim Polites, spokesman for the state education department.
Hartford submitted its application Friday after receiving a signature of approval from the Hartford Federation of Teachers.
Over the past two years, Connecticut has failed to win Race to the Top money three times when the competition was aimed at states. Still, Hartford school officials said they are confident that the school system could stand out in the crowd.
Hartford is requesting $30 million to accelerate reform plans that, officials assert in the application, could close the achievement gap by 2020.
They are targeting grades 6 to 12 in their proposal — an impact on 10,041 students and 2,299 educators in 41 city schools — and said the money would bolster efforts to prepare students for college and keep them engaged in high school, where scores for non-magnet school students have been low.
The proposal calls for $16.8 million toward personalized instruction, $6.04 million for a student development program, and $7.1 million for technology, which includes insurance for the tablet computers, web filtering software and school-based technology specialists. Teachers would also receive more professional development.
"'Personalizing' in Hartford means that no child gets lost in the system, that each child's progress is being carefully tracked, that learning problems are caught and matched to solutions, and those solutions take many shapes. In this system, students are the customer," a draft copy of the proposal states.
"I think it really serves to build upon what has already been started," Mayor Pedro Segarra said.
The application highlights the city high schools' specialized academies and the "choice" system for families, which Hartford implemented in its first phase of reform.
At Pathways To Technology Magnet High School, where each student is assigned a laptop, Principal Steven Dellinger-Pate said the program has allowed for "a great deal of blended learning." Last year, one Hartford student who was sick at home used the laptop to participate in class through a live Skype connection, he said.
Pathways parents have also been able to use their children's laptop for checking email and school notices, Dellinger-Pate told the school board this week.
Board member Luis Rodriguez-Davila said later that "technology is overrated if you don't have the right teachers."
Robert Cotto Jr., the lone board member who voted against authorizing the Race to the Top submission, questioned some of the test score improvements cited in the draft application and wondered if "we're over-promising what we can deliver."
"Is this sustainable for the school system and what happens when the money runs out in four years?" Cotto asked. Administrators said the grant would fund 49 new staff positions, including more behavioral technicians and school counselors.
"We don't want to put forth new initiatives that are not sustainable," Superintendent Christina Kishimoto said. "These will be grant-funded positions with a timeline."
The government expects to announce the Race to the Top winners in December.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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