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Mercer Island schools join state ‘Race to the Top’ quest for federal funds

Students walk to their buses after school is let out at West Mercer Elementary on May 24. In celebration of Memorial Day, there will be no school next Monday, May 31. The last day of school for students will be June 17. - Elizabeth Celms/Staff Photo
Students walk to their buses after school is let out at West Mercer Elementary on May 24. In celebration of Memorial Day, there will be no school next Monday, May 31. The last day of school for students will be June 17.
— image credit: Elizabeth Celms/Staff Photo

The Mercer Island School District (MISD) signed a partnership agreement with the state of Washington to participate in the state’s application for the federal Race to the Top (RTTT) grant.

The district signed the agreement on May 17 and will now wait with the 285 other Washington districts that have chosen to participate to hear if the state is picked by the U.S. Department of Education.

MISD administration had originally expressed concerns with several aspects required of districts in order to sign the agreement, but Superintendent Gary Plano said that after researching the subject, he and the School Board felt comfortable with the conditions required to sign.

“One of our concerns was the new evaluation process which is required for principals and teachers,” said Plano. “We think our evaluation process is superior, and we were initially concerned that if we had to deviate, it would be less than what we had.”

Plano added that further research revealed the district would not have to change its current evaluation system and that, in fact, the state is working on a two-year pilot program involving six to eight districts in the state to look at their process of evaluation.

“I believe our system is exemplary,” he said, noting the district is looking into applying to be a part of the pilot program. He also said that many of the aspects of the RTTT requirements are already established and used at the district.

The state will submit the federal application by June 1.

RTTT gives states the chance to compete for federal grant money by showing that public schools have adopted standards and assessments to prepare students for college and the workplace, by building data systems to measure student growth and to show teachers and principals how to improve instruction, while recruiting, developing and retaining teachers.

If Washington is chosen to receive funds through RTTT, it will allow individual districts to apply for competitive grants.

During the first round of the RTTT, grant applications from two of 14 states were chosen to receive funds. Delaware and Tennessee were each chosen, but the low number of states picked led many to question whether the extensive application process was worth it.

Plano said he felt the Washington state legislature had done a good job of preparing the state to be competitive in the second round. Washington chose not to compete in the first set of RTTT applications.

“I think the Washington state legislature did a phenomenal job changing the laws that needed to be changed,” said Plano. “I applaud our legislators, and I think we’ll be fairly competitive.”

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