Districts Nab Grant

NEW BREMEN — Five area school districts have been awarded a grant through the Race to the Top Innovative Program, STEM (science, technology, engineering, math).

New Knoxville, New Bremen, Mississinawa Valley, Fort Recovery and Ansonia Local Schools have been awarded $250,000 for their MAD (Mercer, Auglaize and Darke Counties) for STEM Grant. The grant will be split between the five districts to be used over three years. The districts plan to use the money to increase the intensity of science and mathematics and to integrate the use of technology in learning. The program will also prepare students for college, teaching them to “attack complex problems, collaboratively develop innovative solutions, communicate effectively and apply practical applications through instruction that is inquiry-based,” according to the grant.

Fort Recovery Superintendent Shelly Vaughn said the inquiry-based approach provides students with a hands-on classroom experience.

“It’s a more discovery, hands-on approach,” Vaughn said. “The teacher is not the keeper of knowledge. It’s going to be a shift in the way teachers teach and the students learn. There’s a lot more integration of technology.”

New Bremen and Fort Recovery Local Schools have received STEM grants in the past and have already started using an inquiry-based program. New Bremen Superintendent Ann Harvey said the students have had a positive reaction to inquiry-based learning.

“Students absolutely love it because they’re no longer just sitting in rows at a desk where teachers try to pour things into their brain,” Harvey said. “Now they’re doing it. They’re up there doing experiments and they’re making presentations and they really are much more engaged and they love it.”

Harvey noted the program will also help students prepare for the future.

“School cannot tell you everything you’re ever going to need to do from now until the day you die.” Harvey said. “We have to be sure that they know how to learn and that we develop that kind of learning so they want to become lifelong learners. We’re giving them those skills — to learn how you acquire new knowledge and how you get information and how you solve problems and how you think through a process.”

The group learned of the grant during a March meeting. Recognizing how fierce the competition was for the grant, Ansonia Superintendent Jim Atchley said the districts coordinated to created a stronger application.

“We knew it would be competitive and we wanted to make ourselves competitive by joining together,” Atchley said.

The superintendents of the five districts, in addition to Karen Smith, of the Auglaize County Educational Service Center, and Jeff Tuneberg of the Mercer County Educational Service Center, met several times and worked together to write the grant.

“I’ve written grants for 15 years — we wrote a really good grant,” Harvey said. “I knew when we were writing it, it was a very strong contender. We never just stopped and said this is good enough. We went home, we reread it, we looked at it over the weekends and then we’d come back and we’d make it a little bit better. I think we put a tremendous amount of effort into making it an absolutely wonderful grant and I think the proposal is really strong and solid.”

New Knoxville Superintendent Kim Waterman said because of the competitiveness, she was surprised that they were able to obtain the grant.

“I thought it was a longshot just because of the fact that it was going to be offered to any Race to the Top school, and when it was presented, it wasn’t for schools of excellence,” Waterman said. “They were more targeting schools that needed to turn around. It was a surprise.”

Mississinawa Valley Superintendent Lisa Wendel noted she was glad their time paid off.

“As a superintendent, you want to make sure your time nets into something that’s good for the students,” Wendel said. “Getting this grand told us that time that we spent directly produced a positive result for students. Had we not gotten that grant, that time that we took out of our district netted nothing for students.”

Harvey said the teachers will be collaborating and sharing their best practices and strongest teaching strategies and learning about inquiry-based instruction. Harvey said the teachers have reacted positively to the STEM grant in the past.

“We’ve seen teachers just become totally rejuvenated — teachers that have taught for a long time,” Harvey said. “Now, they’ve gotten some professional development and they’re able to buy the supplies and the things that they need to do something new and our excitement — we’re seeing it mirrored back to us in our teachers.”

Vaughn said the teachers have enjoyed the collaboration and have wanted more.

“They’ve enjoyed that time, that’s been productive time for them and it has had a positive impact on student learning,” Vaughn said. “That’s one of the most powerful pieces of this.”

Waterman said the teachers at New Knoxville have heard about the STEM program from the teachers at New Bremen and are excited to implement the program.

Atchley noted that the grant would not have been possible without the support of the Local Education Association.

“We wouldn’t have even able to apply had we not been a Race to the Top district, and all of our local associations signed off on being Race to the Top districts so we were eligible for this grant,” Atchley said. “I think the fact that we were able to work with our Local Education Associations was critical. I think it shows that there’s trust there if nothing else.”

Harvey noted the teachers had to want the grant as well.

“We couldn’t just do it administratively,” Harvey said. “We needed the support of all the teachers and we’re glad that they were up for the challenge of improvement. They were not afraid of change. They welcomed the opportunity to get better.”

The group believed the plan is sustainable.

“We couldn’t just do this for three years and stop, it’s got to be that this is a process that’s going to go on,” Harvey said. “It’ll be a challenge.”