Utah's neediest students to get academic boost

Published May 25, 2009 9:50 am
Stimulus » Schools making plans for federal dollars
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After their friends had gone home for the day, a group of sixth-graders -- many of whom were learning English -- stood atop their school's stage practicing Shakespeare.

Olivia Liando, 12, who will play Titania in her after-school program's production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream," said the play has improved her memorization and speaking skills.

"It gets you out of your comfort zone," said the Monroe Elementary School student Thursday.

Now, thanks to a $9.7 million chunk of federal stimulus money, the Granite School District will soon be able to serve more students in such programs at schools with high-poverty rates. In all, Utah schools will receive $49.5 million in Title 1 stimulus money, which, unlike other education stimulus money, will go specifically toward Title 1 schools, which draw federal dollars for serving students from low-income families.

Some districts, such as Granite, say they will use the extra money to expand after-school and summer programs at Title 1 schools such as Monroe. Other districts will use the money to hire more teachers. At least one district is hoping to create a performance-pay program for teachers in Title 1 schools.

The biggest challenge will be figuring out how to spend the money in a way that won't leave schools in a bind when the temporary dollars run out in two years.

Still, Utah educators are excited about the funding, which represents a nearly 78 percent boost over what Utah would typically get from the federal government for its 243 Title 1 schools.

"Frankly, it's a godsend," said John Zurbuchen, Davis School District federal programs director.

Here's what some of Utah's largest districts plan to do with the money.

Davis » Zurbuchen said without the stimulus money, class sizes in Davis' 14 Title 1 schools might have increased by as many as two or three students because of state budget cuts.

He said Davis will also likely use its extra Title 1 stimulus cash to hire seven academic coaches to help teachers improve math instruction and offer three days of training to the district's 450 Title 1 teachers.

Zurbuchen said the district is hoping that when the extra money runs out in two years, the economy will have healed. If it doesn't, he said, the district might not be able to retain the staff it's plans to hire with the money.

Alpine » This Utah County district, on the other hand, is trying not to hire too many new licensed educators in anticipation of that funding cliff. Instead, Alpine will use the money to pay teachers more to work extended school days for some students, expand summer school and provide opportunities for students to go back to school early in the fall. The district also plans to start a performance-pay program for teachers at Title 1 schools. Teams of educators who push low-achieving students to make more than a year's worth of progress next school year will likely be rewarded with extra pay, said Barry Graff, an Alpine administrator.

"We want to kind of set a lofty goal," he said. "And we want to reward you if you're able to meet that goal."

He said the district has not yet decided how much extra pay might be awarded. Graff said the district will see in two years how well the new programs have worked and might try to shift money from other places if they are successful.

Jordan » Jordan School District will try to steer its extra money largely toward instructional materials, training and technology, said Lisa Robinson, Jordan Title 1 coordinator. The district will also add three additional schools to the Title 1 program next year and hire six curriculum coaches, but much of that will be paid for with money that will continue to flow from the government even after two years, Robinson said.

Salt Lake » The district plans to hire 15 assistant principals and a pool of teachers to fill in for educators who go on long-term leave at Title 1 schools. The idea is to have licensed teachers on deck to serve as long-term substitutes, rather than hiring typical substitutes who often aren't licensed, said Laurie Lacy with the Salt Lake district.

Salt Lake also plans to hire more academic coaches and offer master teachers additional pay to work more hours after school and in summer school programs. The district will also increase its summer programs in Title 1 schools from half days to full days.

Lacy said the district will likely, through attrition, be able to keep those hired as academic coaches and assistant principals even after the two years is up. But she said the pool of teachers serving as substitutes will likely be only temporary.

Granite » Utah's second-largest district, which is receiving the most Title 1 stimulus money in the state, plans to hire 21 extended learning coordinators for each of its Title 1 schools, said Rob Averett, the district's Title 1 schools director. The coordinators will help organize expansion of after-school programs, summer school programs and sessions between year-round tracks, among other things. The district will also put two more schools into the Title 1 program next school year.

Averett said one of those schools, Kearns Junior High, will only receive Title 1 funds for two years. He said the extended learning programs will likely continue on a smaller level after the two years are up, and the district will likely be able to hold on to its new hires through attrition.

Laurie Donnay, a Monroe teacher who helps run the after-school drama program, said the money will benefit those students who need it most.

"They've got to memorize and make sense of this," Donnay said of students learning the play. "This is pure comprehension ... And they feel so good about themselves."

lschencker@sltrib.com" Target="_BLANK">lschencker@sltrib.com



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