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Grant to fund Albert Harris improvements

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

By PAUL COLLINS - Bulletin Staff Writer

Martinsville City Public Schools has been awarded a federal grant of $624,414.56 for the first full year of a three-year process to make academic improvements at Albert Harris Elementary School.

Albert Harris was identified by the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) as one of 37 low-performing 2013-14 Priority schools in the state.

MCPS Assistant Superintendent of Public Instruction Angilee Downing said about $550,000 of the $624,414.56 will be used to hire Cambridge Education as the lead turnaround partner. Cambridge, an educational consultant, will work with the school system to help Albert Harris improve its performance.

The rest of the grant will be used for such things as buying laptop computers and professional development focusing on curricular improvements, Downing added.

A school quality review and needs assessment will be done, then goals and benchmarks will be set, Downing said.

“The process is one of building capacity in the school and division and reducing support of Cambridge,” she explained. Cambridge’s services will be greatest in the first year.

“We (the school division) don’t actually employ anyone” for the Albert Harris turnaround project, Downing explained. She said the school division will contract with Cambridge Education, which will provide consultants to work at and with the school. “For our grant, we applied for 40 hours a week for services” from the lead turnaround partner, Downing said.

Downing said foundational reading and math skills will be targeted in grades K-2 through the i-Ready program, which, according to online information, identifies the level at which a student is working, pinpoints the skills needed to improve and adapts lessons accordingly.

The goal is to have five laptop computers per class for the i-Ready program in grades K-2 to use as learning centers, Downing said. Currently, there are not enough laptops to have five in every classroom, and the first year a total of 30 laptops will be bought for kindergarten classes, with existing computers moved to higher grades, she said.

Some of the grant money is for professional development. A one-week session was held in June for teachers, and a session is being held this week, Downing said. Topics have included curriculum alignment and integrating 21st-century skills. Curriculum alignment refers to making sure what is being taught in the classroom aligns with state standards of learning and SOL assessments that require more application and critical thinking.

Twenty-first-century skills include critical thinking, problem solving, communication, collaboration, research and information fluency, Downing said.

Units of instruction and lesson plans have been developed during the professional development sessions, she added.

“We want Albert Harris to reach full accreditation ... and to get out of Priority status,” Downing said.


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