When Kentucky Valley Educational Cooperative Executive Director Jeff Hawkins received a phone call from the U.S. Department of Education requesting he take part in a press conference, staff at the Hazard-based organization were excited about what might be revealed.
And, on Tuesday morning officials at KVEC and 17 school districts in eastern Kentucky — including Harlan County Public Schools — learned their efforts over the past few years to secure a major federal grant to enhance education had paid off.
The consortium will receive approximately $30 million in the Race to the Top funding awarded by the U.S. Department of Education.
Hawkins said the fact the grant will allow the region’s schools to fund and develop tools that will change students’ lives “makes me want to tear up.”
He said the grant will allow for a wide range of initiatives that will “personalize education for the children of eastern Kentucky.”
Three specific components of the KVEC Appalachian Renaissance Initiative are:
- The personalized component to focus a concentrated effort on increasing and elevating the quality of personalized learning, supporting member districts in the effort to develop a one to one technology model at specific integrated grade bands;
- Next generation classrooms to provide access to technology that expands curricular content and increases opportunities for diverse and rigorous student learning. This will allow teachers to connect with other classrooms across the region, state and country, as well as extend to higher education partners;
- Educator effectiveness highlights the vision of the ARI for every student to be taught by an effective teacher, every school led by an effective principal and every district guided by effective leadership. Multiple intra-district professional learning communities will focus on assisting educators to acquire and refine skills and new learning necessary to develop a high functioning and systemic personalize learning environment for every student every day.
The districts are Breathitt County Schools, Floyd County, Harlan County, Hazard Independent, Jackson Independent, Jenkins Independent, Knott County, Johnson County, Lee County, Letcher County, Owsley County, Magoffin County, Middlesboro Independent, Paintsville Independent, Pike County, Pikeville Independent and Wolfe County.
The grant will bring together education leaders that include former Kentucky Commissioner of Education Gene Wilhoit and deans of colleges and other officials from the University of Kentucky, Eastern Kentucky University, Morehead State University, University of the Cumberlands, University of Pikeville, Forward in the Fifth, various health care organizations and other agencies. “This is absolutely groundbreaking,” said Hawkins, noting the initial launch for the program will begin on January 22 in Hazard.
KVEC had hopes previously, but when the funds were announced they were left off the list. Now, they are among five school groups to get a piece of the $120 million pie.
“These are bold, locally directed improvements in learning and teaching that will improve both student achievement and educator effectiveness,” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan told reporters during the press conference. “The best ideas in education don’t come from anyone here in Washington.”
Duncan explained the grants goals are varied and include some students earning associate degrees and a high school diploma at the same time, other students taking home a laptop at night and some teachers being retrained to let students move at their own pace.
All are pilot programs the Education Department is funding with $120 million in grants to five school groups, said Duncan.
More than 200 school districts applied for the Race to the Top money, part of President Barack Obama’s economic stimulus package from 2009. This is the second year the department has given funds directly to local schools to implement their own improvement plans.
(Some information for this article was contributed by the Associated Press.)