The Westerville City School District (WCSD) will receive approximately more than $3 million in revenue due to its leadership and participation in three initiatives that were awarded full funding through Ohio’s $250 million Straight A Fund.
The Straight A Fund was created in the most recent state biennial budget. More than 150 entities received $100 million last year, with $150 million earmarked for new grants this year. Westerville has been involved in successful applications each of the first two competitive grant cycles.
WCSD will receive approximately $1.4 million for its participation in the Innovation Generation initiative, which is affiliated with the national Pathways to Prosperity Network and supported by the Harvard Graduate School of Education and Jobs for the Future. The program received a total of $14.4 million in funding during the first grant cycle.
The Innovation Generation initiative establishes career pathways into vital industry sectors in the central Ohio area. School districts, higher education institutions and business will work together to help students earn the credentials needed to fill some of central Ohio’s fastest-growing jobs.
“Successful completion of the program provides students with industry-specific learning and expands the next steps students will be able to take once they earn their high school diploma,” said WCSD Executive Director of Secondary Academic Affairs Scott Reeves. “Participants will be taking college-level course work that will allow them to graduate high school with specialized certifications and progress toward an associate degree.”
Participating school districts will provide a different array of program opportunities for their students. Reeves noted that students who want to complete an associate degree or pursue a four-year degree will have a significant head start if they complete any of the program’s pathways. Students in WCSD will be able to learn about and pursue careers in Health Care, Advanced Manufacturing and Business/Logistics.
The Health Career pathway is a collaborative initiative with nine school districts, Columbus State Community College (CSCC) and numerous industry partners. WCSD high school students will be able to take CSCC course work beginning in the 2015-2016 school year, which will lead to three industry-recognized credentials: Pharmacy Technician, Clinical Lab Assistant, and State Tested Nursing Assistant. In addition to traditional classroom work, the program includes advanced distance learning labs to provide a variety of virtual instruction. WCSD students can begin the pathway in their freshman, sophomore or junior year, depending upon when they take the coursework that leads to the CSCC courses.
The Business/Logistics pathway includes three school districts, Columbus State Community College and industry partners. WCSD students can begin the pathway in their freshman, sophomore or junior year, depending upon when they take the coursework that leads to the CSCC courses. Students will be able to graduate from high school with a certificate in electronic marketing and 31 semester hours from Columbus State Community College. This earned college credit puts students on track to complete a two-year degree in marketing or supply chain management with one additional year of course work. They will be on pace to complete a four-year degree in only three years.
The Advanced Manufacturing pathway is a collaborative of 10 school districts focused on preparing students for careers in computer-assisted manufacturing. In WCSD, this pathway consists of an elective course that seventh-grade students will have the opportunity to take. The course embeds fabrication technologies in education through nine mobile fabrication labs (MIT Mobile Fab Labs) located around central Ohio, while also forming an entrepreneurship center for economic development and job training, thereby strengthening local economies. “Fab Labs,” which will be available to students at their home schools, offer advanced distance collaboration with other participating districts. Fab Lab hubs will connect schools and other advanced manufacturing partners through curriculum, internship and mentorship opportunities.
WCSD will gain access to additional resources for its participation in the DataStrong initiative, which was awarded $8.9 million in funding during the second round of Straight A grants. Through Data Strong, a consortium of 15 school districts and the Educational Service Center of Central Ohio will create a data-driven system to automate the complex and labor-intensive task of matching individual students with adults best qualified to help them succeed. The initiative also will enable strategic decisions about matching organizations, employers, schools and students.
DataStong also will help address challenges faced by the Central Ohio Compact, which is a collaborative effort among school districts, higher education and industry to double the number of adults who have postsecondary degrees or certificates in four critical industry sectors: advanced manufacturing/robotics, business logistics, health care and information technology.
“Essentially, this initiative supports us and the other area school districts that are involved in the Innovation Generation initiative,” Reeves explained. “This grant provides some much-needed technical support and creates a data resource that will be invaluable to our efforts to help students succeed in college and, ultimately, in their career.”
Led by WCSD, the Evaluating Digital Content for Instructional and Teaching Excellence (EdCITE) initiative is a consortium of five school districts that will be addressing the critical task of transitioning Ohio’s school systems from print to digital curriculum. Teachers will learn to review and align digital resources to Ohio’s New Learning Standards and then use those resources in daily classroom instruction. The grant was funded at $8.4 million, of which Westerville City Schools will receive approximately $1.6 million. This includes approximately 1,900 technology devices such as Chromebooks for student use.
“In school districts across the country, curriculum is shifting from print to digital,” said WCSD Director of Curriculum & Instruction Jennifer Knapp. “The use of print textbooks is declining and the availability of dynamic, digitized content has increased tremendously. Consequently, the complexity of evaluating digital content also has increased.”
The challenge with this shift, explained WCSD Instructional Technology Coordinator Stephanie Donofe, is that many teachers have not had the training necessary to evaluate, select, and integrate digital content into their classrooms effectively.
“Simply put, the purpose of this grant is to help teachers make the best choices for classroom use,” Donofe said. “Working with the Ohio State University and the Ohio Resource Center, we will be creating a statewide Digital Content Evaluation Portal (DCEP) of content reviews to help all Ohio districts select the best, most cost-effective digital curriculum available.”
Teachers who participate in the EdCITE project will contribute their curriculum reviews to DCEP after completing a professional development program on content evaluation, instructional design, and effective teaching practices for digital curriculum.
“Our efforts will positively impact student learning around the state,” Donofe said. “In the end, Ohio school districts will be able to provide more customized, personalized learning experiences that meet their students’ diverse instructional needs.”
The Straight A Fund is intended to generate innovative ideas and sustainable programs that transform education in Ohio. WCSD officials said the Innovation Generation, EdCITE and Data Strong initiatives are sustainable beyond the initial grant funds because they serve as a catalyst for the inevitable, fundamental shift in teaching and learning practices that is occurring in the district and education, in general.
“We were excited to learn that we would receive funding during the first round of grants, but it was amazing to learn last week that two of the other grants we’re involved in were approved for funding during the second round,” said WCSD Superintendent John R. Kellogg, Ed.d. “Receiving these funds is a testament to the creativity and hard work of our staff members who were involved in developing and writing the grants. Most important, however, are the new opportunities these funds will provide to the students of Westerville Schools, as well as students around the state. We’re proud to be one of the trailblazers in this venture.”
The Straight A Fund grant process is extremely competitive. During the first round of the grant award process, 420 organizations submitted 570 applications to be considered for funds. Only 24 grants were awarded. A total of 662 separate organizations, including 446 public school districts, requested more than $761 million in the second round of the grant award process. The Straight A Fund Governing Board recommended the funding of only 34 grants for a total of $141.9 million.