NORWALK, Conn. – Norwalk Public Schools is one of 31 finalists announced Tuesday by the U.S. Department of Education for nearly $120 million offered to school systems that propose plans to improve student performance.
Up to 10 winners are expected to be chosen nationwide. If Norwalk is one of them, it could mean a grant package of $4 million to $30 million, according to federal officials.
Norwalk should find out about the grant by the end of December.
Norwalk and New Haven were among only four New England school districts to make the list. Lawrence, Mass., and Nashua, N.H., were the others. Newark, N.J.’s TEAM Academy Charter School was the only other school in the Northeast to make the list.
The 31 finalists, representing 80 school districts across 21 states, were selected from over 200 applications the department received in October to demonstrate how districts could personalize education for students and provide school leaders and teachers with key tools that support them in meeting students’ needs.
“We made a decision not long ago to go forth and to submit an application for Race to the Top funding,” Norwalk Schools Superintendent Manny Rivera said in October. “We went ahead this year and, given work that has been ongoing in our schools to create a more personalized learning environment, we thought we had a very good opportunity to be able to use some of that work and build that into this particular grant, because the focus of this grant is on personalized learning. So at the same time we’ll be capitalizing on some of the investments that we made through Nellie Mae funding, some of the work that began some time ago at Brien McMahon and at Norwalk High.
Grantees will be selected based on their vision and capacity for reform as well as a strong plan that provides educators with resources to accelerate student achievement and prepare students for college and their careers, according to the press release announcing the finalists. Plans will focus on transforming the learning environment so that it meets all students’ learning abilities, making equity and access to high-quality education a priority.
Teachers will receive real-time feedback that helps them adapt to their students’ needs, allowing them to create opportunities for students to pursue areas of personal academic interest that prepare them for success in their future.
The program also offers competitive preference to applicants that form partnerships with public and private organizations to offer services that help meet students’ academic, social, and emotional needs, outside of the classroom, the release said.
Rivera said Norwalk’s plan is centered on its libraries.
“We’ve been thinking about the future of our libraries, and as we think about technology and access to information, we wanted to use this grant potentially as an opportunity to create a different type of environment within our libraries,” he said “to take and create what we call a learning commons. So basically, what this proposal, if it is funded — again, it’s highly competitive, but if it’s funded — it would give us an opportunity to create learning commons, which would be an information center. We would be redesigning, reorganizing that space to create opportunities for four to six students in small areas of that library, within that configuration, to work together on projects.”
Board of Education Chairman Mike Lyons said he was impressed with the plan.
“I think this is really state of the art thinking, not just from the technology point of view but from the whole process, engaging the whole community, Norwalk ACTS, and organizations that want to reach out, in the birth to 4-year-old range, to help kids get ready. … This is not just technology. This really puts together curriculum, technology, community involvement.”
“This year’s finalists created innovative plans … that serve as an example for the rest of the country,” U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a statement.