Gates Grant to Target Low Performers

By V. Dion Haynes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 19, 2006

D.C. School Superintendent Clifford B. Janey said yesterday a $4.8 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will help fund school system improvements in low-performing schools, including an expansion of reading and math remedial programs and conversion of several senior highs into career academies.

The grant comes as school system leaders struggle to find the money to finance a series of initiatives that Janey introduced this year to boost lackluster student achievement -- including year-round schools, vocational education courses and the career academies. However, the money, to be used for planning and implementing the programs, will make only a modest dent in the $34 million school officials are requesting from the city to pay for the reforms.

Turning around the troubled school system has been a top priority for Janey and new city leaders, including Mayor-elect Adrian M. Fenty.

During spring testing, 28 of 146 schools in the D.C. system made adequate yearly progress under the federal No Child Left Behind law. Moreover, a recent study, partially funded by the Gates Foundation, showed that only 9 percent of freshmen in the system will complete college within five years of graduating from high school.

"The partnership will allow us to really punctuate the importance of literacy for our secondary students," Janey said at a news conference at Ballou Senior High School in Southeast Washington, one of 28 schools that will receive grant money. "This is a very ambitious project."

The Gates Foundation has spent millions of dollars on school reform efforts nationwide, focusing on reinventing high schools and boosting the number of students graduating from college. Foundation officials said the purpose of the grant is to help schools increase the rigor in their curricula, make their studies more relevant to the work world and reorganize into smaller units so that students can receive more support.

In August, the system enlisted education company America's Choice to intervene in seven low-performing senior highs and 13 other schools that feed into the high schools. The company is providing teacher training and extended classroom time in reading, writing and math, as well as tutorial help for students in the senior highs. Schools feeding into the senior highs are receiving all the services except the teacher training.

With the grant, the system will expand the services to nine other senior highs and 19 other schools.

The grant also will be used to help teachers and administrators at several low-performing senior highs transform their campuses into career academies. Janey proposed this year to convert Eastern, in Northeast, into a Latin school focusing on humanities and foreign languages; Spingarn, in Northeast, into a boarding school for students interested in construction trades; Cardozo, in Northwest, into a "trans-tech" school for the study of transportation and aeronautics; and Anacostia, in Southeast, into a health and medical sciences school.

"In D.C., there have been gains at the elementary school level, but those gains are lost in the high school years," Marie Groark, spokeswoman for the Gates Foundation, said in an interview. "These dollars will be used to fund a smaller learning environment with career-themed campuses to engage students."

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