WIUM Tristates Public Radio

Burlington Schools Seeking Some Federal Money

Burlington, IA – The federal government set aside more than $4-billion for the Race to the Top program. The U.S. Department of Education says the program is "designed to reward states that are leading the way in comprehensive, coherent, statewide education reform across four key areas"

- Adopting standards and assessments that prepare students to succeed in college and the workplace
- Building data systems that measure student growth and success, and inform teachers and principals how to improve instruction
- Recruiting, developing, rewarding, and retaining effective teachers and principals, especially where they are needed most
- Turning around their lowest-performing schools.

Delaware and Tennessee were successful in securing millions of dollars during Race to the Top's first phase. Iowa is applying for funding through the program's second phase.

Iowa's seven largest school districts, including Des Moines and Cedar Rapids, have signed on to Iowa's latest effort. The Burlington School District has done the same.

Superintendent Lee Morrison says the district would use the money it receives to further implement the Iowa Core Curriculum.

School Improvement Grants

On the other hand, the Burlington School District will not apply for money designated for the worst performing schools in Iowa.

The U.S. Department of Education is giving Iowa nearly $19-million dollars through the School Improvement Grants program. The Iowa Department of Education says the money will be used to "help turn around schools identified as persistently low achieving."

The state identified about three dozen schools that have consistently under-performed. The list includes the Burlington School District's Oak Street Middle School.

Superintendent Lee Morrison says Burlington will not apply because the district and the Burlington Education Association could not reach an agreement on a school improvement model. The Iowa Department of Education says that when school districts apply, they must implement one of the following four models in their persistently lowest achieving schools.

- TURNAROUND MODEL: Replace the principal, screen existing school staff, and rehire no more than half the teachers; adopt a new governance structure; and improve the school through curriculum reform, professional development, extending learning time, and other strategies.
- RESTART MODEL: Convert a school or close it and re-open it as a charter school or under an education management organization.
- SCHOOL CLOSURE: Close the school and send the students to higher-achieving schools in the district.
- TRANSFORMATION MODEL: Replace the principal and improve the school through comprehensive curriculum reform, professional development, extending learning time, and other strategies.

Morrison says the two sides agreed on using the Transformation Model but could not establish implementation guidelines. Some of the issues include tying student achievement to teacher evaluations and merit pay.

Morrison says Burlington was eligible for $1.8-million, which would have been used to hire additional math and reading teachers at Oak Street Middle School. He says the district will now have to come up with improvement plans without that funding.