Fort Wayne Community Schools will use federal grant that could total nearly $50 million to boost student achievement, teacher effectiveness
Fort Wayne Community Schools leaders laid out plans Thursday evening for increasing student success, especially at low-performing schools. They also provided details on a federal grant that could bring nearly $50 million to the district over five years to help pay for the plans.
FWCS officials provided an overview of the plans to members of the district’s board of school trustees and to interested parents during a work session meeting at Grile Administrative Center.
The wide-ranging presentation also included updates on state efforts to change Indiana’s high school diploma, A-F school accountability system and pathways to high school graduation.
Here are the highlights:
FWCS officials learned late last fall the U.S. Department of Education had awarded the district a Teacher and School Leadership Incentive Program (TSLIP) grant. The grant covers three years, with the possibility of renewing it for two additional years.
• The grant will provide $9.9 million this year, $9.6 million in 2019 and $10.1 million in 2020, said Charles Cammack Jr., chief operations officer.
• FWCS also can seek to renew the grant for two additional years, which would bring the district $10.1 million in 2021 and $10 million in 2022, for a five-year combined total of $49,496,193.
FWCS is the largest public school district in Indiana with 2017-2018 school year enrollment of 29,469 students.
The district’s application for the TSLIP grant, which mainly used data from the 2015-2016 school year, laid out the challenges it faces:
• 43 of the district’s 49 schools, or 88 percent, are considered high-need urban schools with at least 50 percent of the students qualifying for the free or reduced-price lunch programs. Five of the remaining schools had 43 percent to 50 percent of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch.
• At the time of the grant application, three schools were ranked among the bottom 5 percent in the state and another four schools were ranked in the bottom 10 percent.
• State assessment tests showed a large achievement gap between white students and African-American students at all grade levels.
• A high percentage — sometimes as much as 100 percent — of teachers at FWCS schools are white, while the percentage of minority students at the schools ranges from 25 percent to 95 percent. Some students may do better if they have teachers who look like them, the application said.
• Low-performing schools have a high percentage — nearly 43 percent, on average — of teachers with zero to three years of experience. They also have the fewest teachers rated as highly effective under the state’s teacher evaluation standards.
Using the federal TSLIP grant, FWCS intends to improve performance at all schools by implementing what it calls the PEER: Performance + Equity = Excellent Results! program.
• The district will recruit more minority teachers and boost low-performing schools by offering financial incentives to encourage highly effective teachers to join the teaching staffs at those schools.
• The Charles A. Dana Center and CenterPoint Education Solutions will be hired to assist FWCS leaders and language arts and math teachers in developing classroom curriculum, making sure lessons meet Indiana’s evolving curriculum standards and assessing whether students are learning what is being taught.
• Discovery Education has been hired to implement a STEM-focused (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) learning approach at Irwin Elementary, Portage Middle School and Wayne High School. Discovery Education also will assist FWCS with implementing a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) emphasis at its fine arts magnet schools — Whitney Young Early Childhood Center, Weisser Park Elementary, Memorial Park Middle School and South Side High School.
• FWCS will launch new information systems to track student data, such as attendance, grades and progress in learning. A learning management system will serve as a resource for lessons, classroom material and other needs while a new assessment system will provide data on how well students understand lessons and progress in a class.
• FWCS will use the TSLIP grant to provide training to build teachers’ classroom effectiveness. The grant money also will go toward financial incentives to recruit and retain highly effective teachers at high-need schools.
• FWCS also will develop a better personnel management system and provide training to all staff to improve their abilities.
At the same time, FWCS and other Indiana school districts are wrestling with planned changes in Indiana’s high school diploma rules, A-F school accountability grades and pathways for students to graduate from high school.
Changes in those three areas have been proposed by state legislators and by people appointed to the Indiana State Board of Education. The proposals don’t fit well with the plan the Indiana Department of Education submitted to the U.S. Department of Education for compliance with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), FWCS Superintendent Wendy Robinson told board members and parents. ESSA replaces the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
Robinson urged school board members and the public to contact state legislators and state board of education members to request the diploma, A-F system and graduation pathways follow the guidelines of Indiana’s ESSA plan, which was developed with input from school districts, teachers and the public.
She also encouraged school board members and the public to ask legislators and state board of education members to slow down the process for adopting any changes, giving schools at least another year to prepare for the new rules.