Valley schools win Race to the Top grants

Staff report

Ohio will receive $400 million in education grants over the next four years as part of a federal initiative aimed at improving schools.

The U.S. Department of Education announced Tuesday that Ohio was one of nine states awarded funding as part of the second round of its Race to the Top program.

Ten Mahoning Valley-area public school districts and 12 local charter schools signed up to participate in Ohio’s Race to the Top application for federal grants and will get funds.

It was the state’s second attempt at the funds, after a first round earlier this year in which only two states

received grants.

“This is really a historic

moment for Ohio,” said Deborah Delisle, the state’s superintendent of public instruction. “I think in four years, we’re going to look back and think about this as a real turning point in our educational reform for


She added, “This will

enable us to deepen the work and our focus on Ohio’s children.”

Race to the Top is a competitive grant program

created as part of federal-stimulus legislation last year. Selected states and school districts use the proceeds to improve student learning through increased data collection and analysis, training for teachers and principals and other initiatives.

A total of 538 Ohio school districts and charter schools, serving about 1 million students, will receive direct funding through Race to the Top.

The Mahoning Valley-area public schools are Brookfield, Canfield, Jackson-Milton, Sebring, Western Reserve, Bloomfield-Mesopotamia, Columbiana, Crestview, Leetonia and Lisbon.

Dante Zambrini, Canfield superintendent, said his district will receive $25,000 each year for four years through the grant. He said the money is intended for teacher and student development.

Zambrini said a portion of the money will go toward a data system that will help support instruction and show administrators and educators what the student needs are.

The Mahoning Valley-area charters schools getting funds are Legacy Academy for Leaders & Arts, Life Skills Center of Youngstown, Life Skills Center of Trumbull County, Stambaugh Charter Academy, Youngstown Community School Academy of Arts & Humanities, Buckeye On-Line School for Success, Dixon Early Learning Center, Mahoning Unlimited Classroom, Mahoning County High School, Western Reserve Kindergarten Learning Academy and Youngstown Academy of Excellence.

The grant program is designed to aid low-achieving schools.

The Youngstown City School District didn’t participate in the state effort to secure second-round funding under the Race to the Top grant program.

Unwillingness of the Youngstown Education Association teachers union to sign a memorandum of understanding as part of the application meant Youngstown wasn’t


Will Bagnola, YEA president, had said the YEA and other teacher unions are concerned the memorandum would violate the terms of their labor contracts. Seniority rights could be lost, and teacher unions object to having job evaluations tied to student performance because performance is sometimes affected by conditions teachers can’t control, union officials said.

Some districts have opted not to participate because they see little potential financial help for their schools from a program aimed at schools with poor academic records. Youngstown would have been eligible for about $2.4 million, if it participated and if Ohio is funded.

The funding will build on the education-reform legislation passed by lawmakers and signed into law last year, Gov. Ted Strickland told reporters Tuesday.

“We put in place many of the reforms that were asked of us through the Race to the Top effort,” he said. “We were ahead of the game, so to speak. Many other states had to scramble to try to get legislation passed in order to even be able to compete.”

U.S. Rep. Charlie Wilson of St. Clairsville, D-6th, said: “This is a wonderful victory for Ohio schools which will be able to do great things with the funding. ... Our state has taken significant steps to advance student performance, increase graduation rates and eliminate the achievement gap.

CONTRIBUTORS: Staff writer Elise Franco and Columbus correspondent Mark Kovac.

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