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Rockdale schools on board for 'Race to the Top'
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The "Race to the Top" competition for federal stimulus dollars is making many school systems sit up and take notice - including Rockdale County Public Schools.

Rockdale’s school system could even find itself helping to shape national education reforms if it participates, according to school cabinet officials at Thursday’s Board of Education meeting.

The Race to the Top initiative allows states to compete for about $4.35 billion in stimulus funds, which is part of more than $100 billion for education approved earlier this year in the stimulus package, in return for adhering to reforms and standards.

Some of those reforms include linking teacher pay to performance, adopting national standards as well as internationally recognized benchmarked assessments, adopting longitudinal assessments, and making

RCPS Superintendent Dr. Samuel King reported that a listening session with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan earlier that Those areas included the development, compensation and retention of good teachers and leaders, adopting rigorous, common standards and benchmark assessments, turning around the lowest performing schools and using data to drive decision making.

RCPS is ahead of the curve and already enacting many of those areas, said King, making it a good candidate for becoming a "Race to the Top" partner.

King said Secretary Duncan also emphasized the administration’s interest in the growth model, rather than an emphasis on the absolute, as well as teacher effectiveness.

"In other words, how much learning is taking place in the classroom as opposed to credentials such as certification, number of years. More emphasis on performance in the classroom," said King.

Chief academic officer Rich Autry, attended a different meeting that same morning with the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement, which is handling the Race to the Top initiative in Georgia.

Should Georgia qualify for Race to the Top funds, it could receive about $200 million to $400 million in funds over four years, half of which would go to partnering school districts.

Not all states qualify and not all school systems qualify to partner with the state, said Autry, and only about 50 to 70 school districts out of the state’s 180 districts were invited to the informational meeting, including Rockdale.

"This is coming whether you like it or not," said Autry. "We would rather be at the table" to help develop the standards and be prepared for what was coming down the pike, he said.

According to Autry, there are about 17 non-negotiable points that school systems would have to adhere to in order to be part of the Race to the Top.

Board member Donald McKinney commented that these reforms seemed to be taking away control from local school boards.

Jeff Dugan, a member of the school board for 15 years, said he was initially skeptical about the Race to the Top initiative. "I was here before No Child Left Behind. When NCLB was authorized by Congress, they dictated to the states, ‘This is what you will do. How you do it is up to you. Go out, have fun, but you’d better do it. There’s ramifications if you don’t.’"

"What I see from the Race to the Top – I was skeptical at first, but after doing some research and looking at it – through the reauthorization of NCLB, instead of taking the shotgun approach and saying this is what you will do, they’re asking local systems and states to partner with them to help develop these systems which will make all schools better."

The deadline to apply to become a partnering district with the state is Jan 8.