Deal announces second round of Race to the Top grant winners

January 11, 2012

Awards promote innovation in STEM education, charter schools and teacher development

Gov. Nathan Deal today announced 11 winners of Innovation Fund grants, a $19.4 million competitive grant program created through Georgia’s Race to the Top (RT3) plan. Through the Innovation Fund, the state awards grants to partnerships between local education authorities or charter schools, institutions of higher education, businesses and nonprofit organizations that develop or implement innovative and high-impact programs aimed at producing positive outcomes for students.

"The Race to the Top Innovation Fund provides a unique opportunity for communities to collaborate and leverage their expertise to develop innovative solutions in education,” said Deal. “We set the bar high in the first round, and the applicants selected for round two awards rose to the challenge. These projects provide big scale potential for developing our greatest resource and ultimately, ensuring Georgia’s competitiveness.”

The 11 selected grant recipients are:
• Murray County STEM Academy – Murray County Schools, in partnership with Georgia Northwestern Technical College, the Chatsworth-Murray County Chamber of Commerce and others will open program focused on remediating 8th grade students and developing their interest in STEM careers.
• The New Teacher Residency Project – A partnership between Atlanta Neighborhood Charter School and Georgia State University College of Education to address fundamental flaws in the traditional new teacher induction model.
• Smyrna Academy of Excellence – The Smyrna Educational Alliance, in partnership with Georgia State University, Georgia Institute of Technology, Lockheed Martin Corp. and others, seeks to open a STEM charter school serving students in south Cobb County.
• STEAM Teaching and Leadership Academy – The Georgia Tech Research Corp. and the University of Georgia seek to open the first charter school in Athens with the mission of increasing the number of traditionally underrepresented students who choose STEM fields as a career.
• STEM for Life Program – A partnership between Carroll County Schools and Southwire to expand and replicate the existing 12 for Life Program, which supplements classroom learning with real-world experience in advanced manufacturing.
• STEM Inventors Academy – Kennesaw State University and Southern Polytechnic State University will work with Cobb County Schools to create a charter school in south Cobb focused on nurturing students into becoming STEM inventors, researchers and problem-solvers.
• The STEM Targeted Education Program (STEP) Academy – An accelerated coursework, mentoring and Biotechnology Research and Development career pathway program serving at-risk overage eighth grade students in Gwinnett County Public Schools through a partnership with Gwinnett Technical College and the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce.
• Student Applied Learning, New Teacher Induction and Staff Leadership Program – Morehouse College, in partnership with Clayton County Schools, will provide an interwoven approach to applied learning and teacher professional development through the implementation of a summer student research and teacher development program.
• Teach to Learn – A teacher induction program that builds a comprehensive support bridge between teacher preparation at the University of Georgia and teacher induction in Clarke County Schools while building school leadership capacity.
• Tift County Mechatronics Partnership – Tift County Schools, in partnership with Moultrie Technical College, ConAgra Foods, Heatcraft Manufacturing and others, will develop a career pathway focused on Mechatronics, an interdisciplinary field of study involving control systems, electronic systems, computers and mechanical systems, that will equip students to work in a variety of industrial, manufacturing and health sciences settings.
• UGA/GAEL Early Career Principal Residency Program - The University of Georgia and the Georgia Association of Educational Leaders will implement a two-year induction program for early career principals in the state’s lowest achieving schools.

The Innovation Fund provides competitive grants for proposals that creatively leverage members’ financial, human and intellectual resources to address one or more of the four following priorities:
• Raising student achievement through the development and delivery of applied learning opportunities and experiences directly tied to a subject matter, especially in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.
• Raising teacher effectiveness through support for innovative induction programs to bridge the gap between pre-service and career teaching, focusing on providing structured and intensive support to new teachers and leaders.
• Increasing the pipeline of effective educators by developing local capacity through Grow Your Own Teacher programs in rural regions to increase the workforce, especially in high-need subject areas.
• Developing or expanding charter schools that are focused on STEM education to improve the level of STEM instruction in the state and direct students toward in-demand, high-tech careers.

The state received more than 60 proposals and the Innovation Fund Advisory Board, comprised of members of the business, education and philanthropic communities, is charged with making recommendations to the governor for funding. All applicants will receive detailed feedback and a third cycle of Innovation Fund grants will be administered this spring.

The state will use the Innovation Fund to determine best practices in innovative programming related to STEM education, applied learning and teacher and leader recruitment and development to influence future education policy efforts. At the core of the Innovation Fund is the following theory: IF, public and private organizations are encouraged by financial resources, policy environments and supportive operating conditions, THEN, the State of Georgia will be benefit from a stronger commitment from diverse stakeholders to support and advance K-12 public education, the ability to replicate innovative practices with a demonstrated record of success, and ultimately, improved outcomes for students.
Information about the Innovation Fund may be found on the OPB website (www.opb.georgia.gov).

Five awards were made in the first cycle of Innovation Fund grants, including:   

• Drew Charter School Partners of Innovation – A partnership between Georgia State University and Georgia Institute for Technology and Drew Charter School to create one of the state’s first STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) schools.
• Teach for Georgia – A teacher pipeline program modeled after Teach for America that will recruit Georgia Institute for Technology STEM majors to teach in rural areas of Georgia.
• 21st Century STEM Collaborations: Applications of the Direct to Discovery Model – A collaboration between Barrow County Schools and the Georgia Institute for Technology to integrate the Direct to Discovery method into the requirements of the Georgia Performance Standards.
• The KIPP Teacher Fellows Program – A teacher induction program that will train Georgia State University and Mercer University College of Education graduates and deploy them to metro Atlanta schools where they are most needed.
• The Regional Charter STEM Academy – A partnership between White, Hall, and Lumpkin county school systems and North Georgia College & State University to create a tri-county STEM charter school.

Georgia was awarded $400 million to implement its RT3 reform plan in August 2010. The state’s application was prepared with extensive input from education stakeholders and members of the business and philanthropic communities, who helped develop the idea to include the Innovation Fund in the state’s application. As interest in the Innovation Fund grows, the state will seek contributions from philanthropic organizations, nonprofits and businesses as a continuing source of start-up capital for promising innovations.

The Race to the Top fund is a $4 billion grant opportunity to support new approaches to improve schools. The fund was made available in the form of competitive grants to encourage and reward states that are creating conditions for education innovation and reform, specifically implementing ambitious plans in four education reform areas:

• Adopting standards and assessments that prepare students to succeed in college and the workplace and to compete in the global economy;
• Building data systems that measure student growth and success, and inform teachers and principals about how they can improve instruction;
• Recruiting, preparing, rewarding, and retaining effective teachers and principals, especially where they are needed most; and
• Turning around our lowest-achieving schools.

Georgia’s reform plan focuses on strengthening traditional and alternative preparation programs for teachers and leaders, supporting teachers more effectively in the classroom, evaluating teachers and leaders with consistent and objective criteria, rewarding great teachers and leaders with performance-based salary increases, and more effectively using data to inform decision-making, among other things.