Seaford District will apply for $10 million in funds

By Lynn R. Parks

The Seaford School District is one of three districts in Delaware that are applying for funding in the second phase of the federal Race to the Top program. Based on its size, the district is allowed to apply for up to $10 million. Superintendent Shawn Joseph said at Monday night's school board meeting that the district's application amount will be from $5 million to $10 million.

The other two districts that will be submitting applications are Cape Henlopen and Red Clay. Joseph has put together a committee to complete the grant application, which is due Oct. 30. In addition to Joseph, members are board president Mike Smith, assistant superintendent Albert DuPont and a representative from the district's teacher's union. Joseph has also recruited people with three national groups, the Rodel Foundation, focused on improving education throughout the country, Innovative Schools and the National Board of Teacher Standards, to join in the effort. Those groups have offered their services for free, Joseph said.

As the committee moves forward, it will add teachers and community members to its ranks, Joseph said.

Joseph admitted that the grant application is a long shot: In the Seaford School District's category, 435 schools are applying for grants and only 15 to 25 will be awarded.

"It is extremely competitive," he said. "It's a lot of work and it's most small districts wouldn't go for it. But we're Seaford." Even if the grant application is unsuccessful, Joseph said, the exercise of having applied for it will be of value. "The work that we will have done will chart a path toward the future," he said.

Joseph said that the committee will look at five areas in determining what to focus the grant request on. They are: Helping all of Seaford's teachers in obtaining national board certification. "If your child has a teacher who is certified, you have someone who clearly has substance, and who has a proven record of getting high-quality results," Joseph said. Explore moving toward engaging teachers in a peer review process.

Expand the district's "deeper learning model." The district now uses a deeper learning curriculum at the high school's New Tech and will use it in its planned International Baccalaureate program. But for students to do well there, they need similar programs in earlier grades, Joseph said. Offering foreign language immersion programs is one example of a deeper learning education that could go on in the elementary schools. "As a community, it is important for us to look at multiple programs for deeper learning and decide what we want," Joseph said.

Expand teaching of critical thinking. "How do we make sure our children are not just being told what to do and then doing it?" Joseph asked. "We need to make sure that they are being forced to think at high levels and work at high levels."

Strengthening the district's teacher pipeline. Joseph suggested that the district work with local colleges to ensure that they are turning out teachers who can teach at the highest level.

School board member Frank Parks suggested that the committee look at including incentives for teachers and students in the grant application. "We could increase pay and benefits to reward excellence," he said.

Joseph agreed that that is something that the committee can look at. But he cautioned that teacher's groups, including the district's teacher's union, "have some reservations" about bonuses. He added that research has not shown that bonuses are effective in improving teacher performance. "Do they really matter?" he asked. "The jury is still out on that."

"Just because the union is opposed to it doesn't mean that it's not a good idea," Parks countered. Board member Clint Dunn said that some of the grant could be used to pay for mental health services for students. "We have plenty of kids in desperate need," he said.

Joseph agreed that that too is something that the committee can look at. "If we don't deal with mental health issues for our students, we can have all the programs in the world and they won't work," he said.

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