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October 27, 2012

 

Schools apply for $9M grant

Money would give rural students more education opportunities

SchoolsBob Ellis/staff photographer
McGraw High School history teacher Matt Martins helps junior Courtney Purcell with a map on a Smartboard in a U.S. History class in September. McGraw, Marathon Cincinnatus and DeRuyter schools have joined six other districts in applying for a $9 million state grant designed to improve rural students’ education.

By SARAH BULLOCK
sbullock@cortlandstandardnews.net
and SCOTT CONROE
sconroe@cortlandstandard.net
Staff Reporters

McGRAW — Cincinnatus, DeRuyter, Marathon, McGraw and Otselic Valley are among a group of ten rural school districts applying for a $9 million grant through New York’s Rural Initiative for Student Excellence.
The goal is it to provide rural students with more access to educational opportunities available in larger school districts, according to the grant’s executive summary.
The grant from NY RISE, as the state program is known, would help students become more college and career ready by graduation and fund programs tailored to students, so struggling students and students who are not challenged enough in school receive appropriate instruction.
The consortium of schools also includes LaFayette and four Lewis County districts: Harrisville, Beaver River, South Lewis and Copenhagen.
The consortium is split into two groups, with the Lewis County schools composing the northern body, the other districts composing the southern body.
Under the first two years of the four-year grant, the southern group will focus on college degree attainment and helping students within those five districts prepare for college level work, so they can avoid remedial classes.
The money would come from the state through funds provided by the U.S. Department of Education through its Race to the Top competition. New York received money from the competition two years ago in return for aligning its education standards and goals more closely with the federal government’s plan.
McGraw Superintendent of Schools Mary Curcio spearheaded the grant application locally, recruiting the six local districts to join the four in the north. She was previously principal for grades 6-12 at Harrisville.
Curcio has repeatedly said publicly that she wants her district’s students to have the same opportunities as larger districts’ students. McGraw has obtained state and federal grant money recently to improve technology and literacy resources.
One big problem, said Rebecca Stone, Marathon superintendent of schools, is having students stay in college when they have to take remedial classes that delay getting a degree and add to college costs.
The southern group would work with local colleges, including Tompkins Cortland Community College, to better prepare for the academic transition.
TC3 calls such classes “developmental,” instead of remedial. The courses are in math and English, and are intended partly for older students enrolling in college after years away from school.
Charles Walters, DeRuyter superintendent of schools, said another goal is to keep students enrolled in school instead of dropping out. He said the grant would partly be used to purchase technology for each student to use in class, such as the Amazon Kindles that DeRuyter purchased this year for English classes in grades 10 through 12.
Still another priority would be helping families encourage students who are the first in their families to attend college. The districts intend to use “First in the Family” clubs to offer support to students and their families who are unfamiliar with college life.
At the same time, the four northern districts will focus on using student data to identify children who are struggling and students who are excelling.
From there, personal education plans will be developed for the students that include students’ learning needs, interests, and college and career goals. The plans would require diverse content and approaches and a group of the districts’ best teachers would develop the curriculum and train other teachers.
After two years, each of the northern and southern groups would implement the programs the other group had developed in its districts. For the third and fourth years, the groups would support each other’s programs and continue to improve them so that they can be replicated across the state or nation.
Syracuse University’s School of Education, SUNY Morrisville, and Onondaga and Jefferson community colleges would also assist the consortium throughout the project.
The grant application’s appendix contains a chart comparing courses offered at Copenhagen, South Lewis and Harrisville with course offerings at Penfield High School in suburban Rochester. Penfield has twice as many courses, the chart shows.
“It’s really unfair,” Stone said of the difference in course offerings available to students. With the grant, Marathon is hoping to add at least one elective in each academic area, she said.
The ten districts have about 646 teachers and a total of 7,037 students, more than half of whom qualify for free or reduced lunch due to their families’ low income.
Cincinnatus Superintendent of Schools Steve Hubbard has spent his career in small rural schools such as Fabius-Pompey and Weedsport. Stone came to Marathon from South Jefferson Central School, south of Watertown.

 

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