Thrilled. Giddy. Speechless.
Those were some of the words used by Superintendent Wendy Robinson to describe the reactions of district administrators after being notified Thursday that Fort Wayne Community Schools has been awarded at least $15.3 million from the U.S. Department of Education's Teacher Incentive Fund Grant.
The grant award is actually $42 million to be disbursed over five years, with Robinson explaining that the district will receive $15.3 million for use initially. The remainder would be subject to evaluation and contingent upon congressional approval.
The district will use the money to enhance professional training and support systems for educators and administrators in each of its buildings, Robinson said, not for more simple measures like basic pay increases. With the district having shown steady improvement over the past three years in metrics such as standardized testing, Robinson said she felt the district's educators have shown they are worth the investment in human capital.
"They believe that we have their best interests at heart," Robinson said. "All of the things that we've asked people to do have been rewarded. Now, we don't have to just tell people that we support them. We can do it."
Robinson said the district is likely to hire someone to manage the spending of the grant and would be interested in hiring coaches for teachers and administrators. A program for administrative interns who would be groomed to take positions within the district could also be established.
While all of those types of positions or programs could be eliminated upon the expiration of the grant funding, Robinson said the district would not necessarily seek to do so. Evaluations of the effectiveness of new initiatives would be conducted by FWCS and if a program was deemed worthy, the district would be compelled to find a way to keep it.
"If it works, that will be on the (school) board and us to find a way to maintain it," Robinson said.
Fort Wayne Education Association Al Jacquay said the district and the educators "are on the same page" when it comes to the education of students. He said the district took seriously the results of polling of teachers that was critical of the administrative branch during a period of time where South Side and North Side high schools were at risk of takeover from the state due to lack of academic performance.
That led to the creation of the program called Leading Educational Achievement with Distinction, or LEAD, which consists of 11 schools in the district. Those schools underwent significant changes as LEAD was implemented, including teachers having to reapply for positions, with not all being retained. That program, as well as the inclusion of the critiques offered by educators, was included in the grant proposal, and Jacquay said it showed FWCS' ability to adapt and grow.
"I think that plays a part in this (grant being awarded)," Jacquay said. "We don't always agree, but they have to be on the same page. The district was willing to accept criticism, the teachers were willing to accept that things were going to change. There have been benefits from this."
A news release from the Department of Education said the funding was part of $290 million spread across 35 grants in 150 districts, with nearly 1,000 schools affected over 18 states and Washington, D.C.
FWCS used an independent contractor to write the grant proposal, Robinson said, while the Department of Education said the grant recipients were selected from a pool of over 120 applications.
Robinson also said that the district would continue to seek federal grants, something the district had not done frequently in the past, but that the district would be transparent and show that it is a good steward of any funds that it receives.