R2 Looks at Grants, Review

Dr. Arlene Bakutes, District Grants Coordinator, and the principals’ benefiting from a grant presented at Tuesday night’s Richland 2 School Board meeting the merits of a nearly $4.5 million grant over a three year period to Killian Elementary, Longleaf Middle and Westwood High schools. Called “Full STEAM Ahead!,” this program is a science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics focused curriculum designed to reduce minority isolation. A study by the National Endowment for the Arts shows that students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds who actively participated in the arts tended to score better in science and writing, and were more likely to aspire to college. A major purpose of the grant is to “provide the programs and resources to keep [students] at these magnet schools,” and to “slowly increase the diversity of the student body at Killian,” to “create a more diverse student body at Longleaf Middle School and Westwood High School,” the grant application states. At the end of the grant period, the district intends for schools to continue the programs with regular district funding.

Review Team Findings

Also on the docket Tuesday night was the Review Team of faculty and district staff that sifted through a district-wide survey to gather employee feedback on what should be funded in the district and concerns where funding is allowing them to reach optimum. Most notable was the impact of rising poverty rates severely curtailing field studies and purchasing of library books. Under the previous superintendent’s attempt to create equity in access to field trips, field trips are no longer funded by the parents. In the past, students who were unable to pay the fee were covered by a donation from another family, a PTO fundraiser or the principal’s discretionary budget. Currently, the school raises the funds or school’s discretionary fund is used. Discretionary funds do not have budgets to support multiple school field trips, so a school is currently in the position of selecting one class or one trip per year. Fundraisers can also contribute, but this has proven to be less successful in schools of high poverty. The Review Team asks that the way field studies are funded be uniform across the district and be recognized as a way to enrich the focus of hands on learning.

Also, the Review Team noted that funding for the media centers was removed from the general budget several years ago. Again, the principals fund the purchase of books. As in the field trips, funding is inconsistent across the district. High poverty schools have a difficult time raising the funds to purchase supplies. Board Member Susan Brill mentioned that she had spoken with Media Specialists and has this request on her priority spending list when the Board meets to discuss budget.

The Review Team also said that the work of Family Interventionists should continue to focus on the whole child and address the issues within the family – usually meeting outside of school setting as a family unit. This work has proven to be particularly effective with middle and high school students and their family units. The positive spillover has been improvements in behavior and academic performance.

Prior to the next School Board meeting, Wednesday (new day), April 9 at Polo Road Elementary School, there will be the first of two hearings on the General Budget for the coming school year. The public is invited to attend at 5 p.m.

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