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FHS wins $200K Focus School grant

Posted on Monday, October 8, 2012 at 5:59 pm

Fayetteville High School is among 56 winners of the Focus School grants which will provide an estimated $19.2 million investment to schools across the state during the 2012-13 and 2013-14 school years.

The announcement was made by the Tennessee Department of Education last week.

The winning schools will be awarded between $100,000 and $300,000 each year depending on enrollment size and satisfactory performance. The award will be used to create and sustain improvement plans that close student achievement gaps among subgroups, such as racial and ethnic groups, students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, students with disabilities and English-language learners.

Fayetteville High School earned a $200,000 grant for the current school year and an opportunity for another grant next school year.

The grant program is designed to support Focus Schools – the 10 percent of schools in Tennessee with the largest achievement gaps between groups of students – in developing deliberate, data-driven strategies to ensure growth for student subgroups that have underperformed their peers.

“Using this grant, Tennessee’s Focus Schools will create real opportunities to close student achievement gaps while providing examples of success and lessons learned for all schools across the state,” said Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman.

The state named 167 Focus Schools in August, a part of Tennessee’s accountability system developed through its waiver from No Child Left Behind, and 152 of those Focus Schools applied for the grant. The list of Focus Schools included FHS, along with Fayetteville Middle School in the city school system and Blanche School in the Lincoln County School System.

School faculty, along with parents, outside experts and community partners, submitted plans in September based on the latest research in the areas of individualized student support, staff professional development, extended learning time, community engagement and performance management. 

For those Focus Schools that were not awarded grant funds, the state plans to enlist the support of external academic specialists who will provide personalized, embedded technical assistance to Focus Schools as they work to close existing gaps.

“Being a Focus School means you’re high in achievement,” explained Dr. Janine Wilson, director of the Fayetteville City School System. “It does not mean your achievement is low. You just have one area you’re focusing on, and our focus is to close the gap between economically disadvantaged and non-economically disadvantaged.”

According to Wilson, the system will track last year’s eighth graders for the next four years of their high school careers. Because the eighth grade class was housed at FHS last year, the school was named a Focus School based on gaps between economically and non-economically disadvantaged in that group.

“We will track those students for the next four years and gauge the impact of additional technology, ACT preparation and additional reading instruction to enhance not only college readiness but also career and technical skills.”

According to the director, the $200,000 grant this year will be used heavily on increasing the use of technology.

“We plan to refurbish our computer lab and also purchase iPads and laptops, which will be on carts, so students can be mobile,” she said. “We hope to strengthen our STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) program with some of this new technology.

“If we’re fortunate enough to obtain the second year grant, we hope to add personnel.”

Since the FHS facility is already totally wireless, infrastructure is already in place to handle the addition of new technology – “That’s a real plus for us,” Wilson said. “We’re excited to have the ability to handle any new technology we add.”

Another focus of the grant funds this year is implementation of before and after school instruction, providing students with snacks and transportation, said Eric Jones, principal of Fayetteville High – “We’ll be able to provide them mental food, physical food and a safe ride home,” Jones said.

“We wrote the grant to follow their progress and ensure they meet all high school testing requirements,” said Dr. Bridgette Jones, a supervisor for the system who wrote the grant proposal.

The addition of technology will play an important role in ensuring those requirements are met, she said.

“We’re able to handle as much technology as we can get,” said Dr. Jones. “It’s going to be very flexible and will allow access to equipment for all the kids.”

Dr. Jones expressed her appreciation to the high school leadership team who provided valuable insight from the front lines – “Our high school leadership team had a great deal of input,” said Dr. Jones.

“This grant is an excellent opportunity for us to optimize our program for some of our student subgroups,” added Mr. Jones. “It will allow us to be ahead of the game in a number of different areas. I really appreciate Bridgette (Jones), (Supervisor) David King and (FMS Assistant Principal) Penny Monks. They worked really hard on this.”