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Lindsay Unified at the top of Race to Top
District one of only four in state
Out of more than 370 applications nationwide, Lindsay Unified School District is one of just 61 finalists in the Race to the Top-District competition.
The national finalists were announced Monday by the U.S. Department of Education.
Those 61 finalist will now be narrowed down to 20 or 25 school districts that will share close to $400 million.
Lindsay Unified Superintendent Tom Rooney, while obviously pleased, said they district still has a long way to go.
“We’re trying not to get too excited until we get the award,” he said Tuesday.
That award, should Lindsay get that far, would be $10 million spread out over four years.
The Race to the Top-District program is to support locally developed plans to personalize and deepen student learning, directly improve student achievement and educator effectiveness, close achievement gaps and prepare every student for success in college and careers, said the department in a press release.
“What they were looking for is districts to implement innovative system, to ensure personalized mastering — that every learner can reach their fullest potential,” said Rooney, who is in his first year as superintendent for the district of more than 4,000 students. He previously served as assistant superintendent in the district.
He said that criteria fit perfectly with the district’s Performance Base Learning concept that was instituted four years ago and is now implemented throughout the district.
“The requirements were pretty closely aligned with what we’re already doing,” he said.
Lindsay was one of only four school districts in the state to make the finalist list. Rooney said the awardees will be announced by Dec. 31.
“We’re definitely happy we’ve made it to this point. The $10 million we would receive would help to further develop the system.”
The 61 finalists, representing more than 200 school districts, were selected from 372 applications the department received in November to demonstrate how districts could personalize education for students and provide school leaders and teachers with key tools that support them to meet students’ needs.
“These finalists are setting the curve for the rest of the country with innovative plans to drive education reform in the classroom,” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said.
“This competition was designed to support local efforts to close the achievement gap and transform the learning environment in a diverse set of districts, but no matter who wins, children across the country will benefit from the clear vision and track records of success demonstrated by these finalists.”
Race to the Top-District applications were randomly assigned to three-person panels that independently read and scored each application, with independent reviewers’ scores averaged to determine an applicant’s score. The department arranged the applications in rank order from high to low scores, and determined which were the strongest competitors to invite back based on “natural breaks” – i.e. scoring gaps in the lineup. The top 61 applications were then selected as finalists.
Rooney spoke passionately about the change in approach in his district, calling it “a really significantly bold innovative change to education.”
He explained the concept is based on the reality that “kids learn in different ways and at different time frames.” He said it allows learners to progress at their own pace, with assistance and resources made available to help them to succeed.
He said part of the program is to continually assess students to determine “what is it they don’t know. The goal is to get them to where they need to be.”
So far, he explained, the program is working. The district has improved its state Academic Performance Index by 91 points in just three years. “We’ve been able to link that success to Performance Based Learning,” he said.
He praised not only staff, but parents and students for buying into the new approach. He was proud to tell of an eighth-grade student, who after having the program explained, replied, “You’re not giving up on us.”
Rooney said the money would be used to further develop the teaching concept should LUSD make the final list.
“It will make it a much higher quality product in the end and accelerate its development,” he said.