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Posted at 04:06 PM ET, 06/14/2012

D.C. schools win $10 million in ‘What’s Possible’ grants to experiment with technology, extended day

Fifty-nine District public schools, most of them the system’s lowest performers, will use $10 million in grants to experiment with extended days, technology and other initiatives to spur academic achievement, Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) and Chancellor Kaya Henderson announced Thursday.

The schools are winners of the “Proving What’s Possible” grant
D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson. (MATT MCCLAIN - THE WASHINGTON POST)
competition, established by Henderson to catalyze teaching and learning in struggling schools. Henderson said she hoped the grants, which range from $10,000 to nearly $500,000, would allow educators to try some of the ideas they’ve had on their wish lists for years.

“There are so many great ideas we know can work coming out of the schools,”said Henderson, who has pledged to lift the test scores of the system’s 40 lowest performing schools 40 points by 2017. She was joined by Gray in announcing the winning schools at Thomas Elementary in Ward 7.

Thirteen schools will try some form of an extended school day in 2012-13. Dunbar High School in Ward 5 ($300,000) will expand by 45 minutes in the morning and afternoon for grades 9 and 10, with the time devoted to project-based learning and tutorial service for struggling students. C.W. Harris Elementary in Ward 7 ($340,000) will extend the school day to 5:15 p.m. for all students Monday through Thursday. On Fridays, teachers will receive extra professional development after the traditional 3:15 p.m.dismissal.

In addition to a longer day, Kelly Miller Middle School in Ward 7 ($490,000) will start summer camps for rising 6th-to-8th graders. Stanton Elementary in Ward 8 ($300,000) will establish a small, highly-structured academy for students who have struggled, with an emphasis on social and emotional support and small group instruction. You can see the full list here.

Teachers must vote as a school to work beyond hours set out in the 2010 collective bargaining agreement. In some instances the votes have not occurred, according to Washington Teachers’ Union president Nathan Saunders. At Dunbar, for example, the vote must be repeated because it wasn’t done by closed ballot..

Saunders cautioned that not all research on extended school days suggests that it enhances learning, but he said the union is willing to cooperate.

“The teachers and the union do not want to throw a wet blanket on ideas that the citizenry or mayor or chancellor believe would be effective,” Saunders said. “The union is going to work with the mayor and chancellor to implement programs consistent with the union contract.”

Thursday’s announcement said money from the grants comes from “funds previously spent on centrally-mandated pilots and programs.” But Henderson declined to specify which pilots or programs have been discontinued to underwrite the grants.

“It doesn’t serve any purpose, I think, to disparage or chastise or cast a negative shadow on programs we’re not funding,” Henderson said.

By  |  04:06 PM ET, 06/14/2012

 
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