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DCSS board committee gains clarity on grant

ALBANY, Ga. -- The Dougherty County School Board's Instructional Accountability Committee voted 2-0 to recommend applying for the federal School Improvement Grant in a meeting Thursday evening at the Administration Building.

Committee Chair Michael Windom and committee member Anita Williams-Brown planned to call the other five Board of Education members to appraise them of the additional information they had learned from the 90-minute meeting.

"Now that everyone has been reached, a handout will go out to everyone as to what we accomplished during the meeting as far highlights," Windom said after the meeting. "Once board members have an opportunity to digest that, we'll do a phone poll in the afternoon and hopefully that will accomplished by 5 p.m. tomorrow (today)."

Results of the phone poll will determine if the board follows the Instructional Accountability Committee recommendation. Based on comments at Wednesday's meeting, support for the grant is uncertain.

"I think it's worth a chance because it kind of puts pressure on the administration, the teachers and the board to improve student achievement," Windom said. "In essence, by raising your hands to participate then you're choosing to take this model to accomplish significant student achievement."

If the Dougherty County School System chooses to apply for the grant, which it must do by Tuesday, Albany High Principal Sheila Marshall and Dougherty Comprehensive Principal Horace Reid Jr. will lose their jobs if the DCSS is awarded the possible $2 million grants that could extend to as much as $6 million for three years.

The grants had basically four options -- closing the school, converting it to a charter school, replacing the principal and firing half the staff, and replacing the principal and improving through comprehensive curriculum reform. School system officials choose the latter, called the Transformational Model.

In April, school officials were told they would receive word on the grant sometime in May, but the state recently said the announcement won't come until June.

The school system turned in to the state a $1.5 million request for Albany High for one year, and a $1.385 million request for Dougherty Comprehensive to address academic needs.

At Thursday's meeting, Windom and Williams-Brown were able to ask Cassandra Lawson Sampson, instructional supervisor for secondary English, language arts and foreign language, and Debra Pope Johnson, instructional coach and secondary social studies, along with other school officials, heard answers to board concerns about the grant.

As far as whether an acceptance of the grant means mandatory participation, even if the grant reward is too small to cover the increased costs, Windom said, 'They didn't say it was mandatory, but the expectation was that you would be committed for the duration of the (three-year) grant period. In other words, there really isn't an opt out."

Schools will be measured based on standardized test scores in math, English/language arts, science and social students, as well as graduation rates, which the Georgia Department of Education told DCSS officials must be at least 80 percent for teacher incentives of $1,200-$1,500 to kick in.

"(If we apply for the grant) we committed to the continuation of the grant to the $300,000 level, which we would have an obligation to in three years," Windom said. "There's no additional stress on our current finances because the actual commitment to the continuation of the grant is not due until three years down the road. In essence, you would hope that the financial picture would improve by that period of time. We're taking a gamble on that as well, but sometimes you have to step out on faith."

However, DCSS Executive Director of Operations and Business Services Robert Lloyd had his doubts about the system's ability to finance the grant in the future.

"We don't have the monies to do what you're asking about," he said. "For the next two to three years, we don't have the money for the staff training and that's why we're having the cuts we're doing now in the schools. As it stands currently, we don't have the money."

Lloyd was also concerned about busing students early in the morning for the additional instruction time.

"On the grant I've seen that was submitted, we don't have the buses and the staff to do it with the buses in the morning for the students," he said. "The buses have been pared back to meet the capacity as it is. This is an operational problem that hasn't been built into the ground."

Johnson responded, "We're not talking about 700 children going to Albany High on the buses at 7:45 a.m."

"But, you've got to find the buses for 50 percent," Lloyd countered.

Later Williams-Brown said she supported the grant because of its benefits for students.

"It's about the kids and it's about all kids learning, and so that's why we're trying," she said. "...I'm for it."