The Johnson City School District is among 31 finalists out of more than 250 districts competing for $120 million in federal Race to the Top funding.
Greg Wallace, author of the grant proposal for the system, said the Johnson City district asked for $18.2 million over the next four years to pay for technology upgrades and 17 new academic specialists to work with at-risk students at the system’s 11 schools.
“The biggest part of that is for providing academic specialists at every school to help with those students who are classified as tier two and three,” Wallace said.
Tier two students are those who have some deficiency, but would benefit from additional in-class attention from a tutor instead of being removed from class, he said. Tier three students are those who are more than a grade level behind the rest of the students in their cohorts and may need significant intervention to bring them up to the appropriate grade level.
Johnson City schools currently have a handful of academic experts in reading and math, and the extra attention they pay to students in need has greatly benefited the district, Wallace said.
“It’s very targeted and specific interventions we want to provide for those students,” he said. “That’s the way we wrote the proposal. We want our students who are falling behind in reading and math to be able to benefit from this program.”
Out of the 31 grant finalists in the U.S., Johnson City’s is the only district from Tennessee.
Wallace said he received a congratulatory call Wednesday from U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, and said other Tennessee politicians have vowed to write letters of recommendation to federal officials advocating the district’s plan.
“It’s a lot of prestige just to be named as a finalist, but we certainly want to get the opportunity to put this plan into action,” he said. “I think one of the things that made us a stronger applicant was our prior record of success academically and our ability to take grant funding and keep those programs in action.”
In last year’s round of Race to the Top funding, Johnson City was not named a finalist.
Wallace said in drafting this year’s proposal, he looked at the district’s overall score and judge’s comments from last year and spoke with some of the districts that did win funding to help bolster the application.
Interestingly, he said the district’s proposal almost didn’t get a chance this year, when it was lost because of a clerical error.
“When I looked at the list of the districts that had submitted proposals, ours was listed as one that wasn’t turned in,” he said. “But I was able to show them that someone in their office had signed that they received it and it must have been lost, so they allowed us to resubmit it.”
Included in Wallace’s proposal was $1.2 million for technology upgrades that are needed to administer tests under the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers and funding to help the district administer a rapid housing program for homeless students.
Now that the finalists have been announced, Wallace said the grant awarding process should begin to pick up speed.
Last year, the finalists were notified around Thanksgiving, and the winners were announced before Christmas break, Wallace said.