Governor Sonny Perdue announced Tuesday that Georgia was selected as a winner by the U.S. Department of Education for the second round of "Race to the Top" grants.
With the grant, the state is projected to receive $400 million over four years to implement its plan.
"While this has seemed more like a marathon at times, now the real race begins," said Governor Perdue. "I want to thank our Race to the Top teams, including teachers, principals, superintendents and other education professionals, for their hard work in preparing a great application. This is truly a unique opportunity to implement a Georgia-created plan that will accelerate our work in improving student achievement."
Presenting the grant proposal to Washington's five-person panel of evaluators was State Board of Education Chair Wanda Barrs, State Superintendent of Schools Brad Bryant, Gwinnett County Public Schools Superintendent Alvin Wilbanks, Governor Perdue's Director of Policy Erin Hames and Governor's Office of Student Achievement Executive Director Kathleen Mathers, who traveled to the Capitol two weeks ago.
The Race to the Top fund is a $4 billion grant provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 to support new approaches to improve schools. The grant is to reward a state that is creating conditions for education innovation and reform, specifically implementing plans in areas such as: adopting standards and assessments that prepare students to succeed in college and beyond schools, building data systems to measure student growth and success, recruiting, preparing, rewarding and retaining effective teachers and principals and turning around the lowest-achieving schools.
Georgia grouped 26 school districts to partner with the state in implementing Georgia's Race to the Top plan. Among the districts, which make up 41 percent of public school students in Georgia is Rockdale County. The others are Atlanta Ben Hill, Bibb, Burke, Carrolton, Chatham, Cherokee, Clayton, Dade, DeKalb, Dougherty, Gainesville, Gwinnett, Hall, Henry, Jones, Meriwether, Muscogee, Peach, Pulaski, Rabun, Richmond, Spalding, Valdosta and White.
Rockdale County Superintendent Dr. Samuel King said the state would determine the allocation of funds and a timeline and priority for any initiatives, whether it is developing leading school districts or bringing up struggling school districts.
Rockdale was one of the one of the first school systems to apply to be a partner in any Race to the Top initiatives. King clarified that being a partner did not guarantee Race to the Top funds would come to the district.
"We're interested to see how things pan out. Hopefully it's going to be an enhancement of things we're already doing," he said. "We're just excited to be in the mix."
The participating districts include 46 percent of Georgia's students in poverty, 53 percent of Georgia's African American students, 48 percent of Hispanics and 68 percent of the state's lowest achieving schools.
"This is very exciting news for Georgia and for our public education system. We congratulate and offer our thanks to the state leaders who led our Race to the Top application process," said Steve Dollinger, President of Georgia partnership for Excellence in Education. The award of the Race to the Top funds will boost the momentum Georgia has built in creating a consistently improving public education system. With this money come a great opportunity and a huge challenge for our educational leaders. They must use every dollar wisely and stay focused on getting the most from this investment for the future of our young people. This award should be seen as a vote of confidence and an energizer to continue our move forward. It's time to get to work."
Recommendations for Georgia's Race to the Top plan focus on strengthening traditional and alternative preparation programs for teachers and leaders, supporting teachers more effectively nit eh classroom, evaluating teachers and leaders with consistent and objective criteria that inform instruction and rewarding great teachers and leaders with performance-based salary increases. The application also calls for Georgia to adopt and implement common curricular standards and internationally-benchmarked assessments that indicate Georgia's ability to compete within a globally-connected economy.
"I am so pleased that Georgia has been named a winner of Race to the Top," said Superintendent Bryant. "Going for Race to the Top has never been about just the money, but more about further development of our foundation to drive increased student achievement. But now that we have the additional resources, we can put an even greater focus on implementing that foundation for the benefit of Georgia's students."