D65 takes step toward receiving Race to the Top funds

Manuel Rapada

Evanston District 65 moved closer Tuesday to receiving a share of the $21.4 million set aside for individual Illinois school districts participating in the state’s education reforms.

Board members unanimously supported participating in the state’s Race to the Top plan during its regular meeting Tuesday night at the Joseph E. Hill Education Center, 1500 McDaniel Ave.

In December, Illinois received a $43 million grant from phase three of Race to the Top, President Barack Obama’s main education initiative, which awards competitive grants to states willing to adopt reforms. Half of the state’s funds must go to school districts involved in the reform program.

Susan Schultz, a D65 assistant superintendent, said in order to be eligible for Race to the Top money, the district would have to implement the Performance Evaluation Reform Act by the 2014-15 school year, a year earlier than Illinois would otherwise require.

The measure requires student growth to be factored into teacher performance, which Schultz said the district’s evaluation already covers, though “some changes will be needed to be in compliance with PERA.”

Still, Superintendent Hardy Murphy called filing a statement of intent to the Illinois State Board of Education a “no-brainer,” as many districts don’t want to implement the act a year earlier.

“We felt like we were well-positioned to take advantage of what could be a significant amount of money,” Murphy said. “With fewer districts that participate, the more our share of funding.”

Other requirements include piloting a peer evaluation system during the 2013-14 school year and offering mentoring programs to first- and second-year teachers.

In order to be eligible for the funds, D65 must submit to the state by Feb. 29 the statement signed by Murphy and Jean Luft, president of District 65 Educators’ Council, the district’s teachers’ union.

While the school district has issued similar statements pledging to implement reforms since phase one of the program, board member Tracy Quattrocki noted a signature from the teachers’ union was “wanted, but not required” for the phase one statement. The district is in conversation with the teachers’ union, and Schultz said she “certainly hopes” the two parties can come to an agreement.

“We’re making every effort to address any issues they might have,” Schultz said.

Should the district meet next week’s submission deadline, the ISBE will send the district a tentative award notice in early March. Then, D65 has until April 1 to complete and execute a “Scope of Work,” outlining plans to incorporate the state’s reforms.

But for now, Schultz is still making sense of the state’s expectations on participating districts.

“We have been working to get up to speed in what this involves,” Schultz said.

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