District awarded federal grant funding

By: April Lehmbeck | Advertiser Times | Published June 22, 2011

HARPER WOODS — During a time of extreme pressure to make cuts to budgets and find ways to continue to offer improved educational opportunities to students, an influx of additional funds that must be aimed at programs that boost student achievement is welcome news.

Harper Woods School District is one of 24 Michigan school districts that was chosen for School Improvement Grant funding. There were 72 schools in the state that were eligible for the grant funding, but only two dozen were chosen to receive money during this round of recipients that were announced this month.

“It’s an exciting time of year given the news of last week,” Harper Woods Superintendent Todd Biederwolf said, adding that they are receiving the funding in light of the high school redesign the district is working on implementing. This funding will “enable us to implement our high school redesign in a very robust fashion.

“We have to be excited about our success in a competitive grant environment,” he said.

Harper Woods will be given about $1.3 million each year for a total of almost $4 million over a three-year period, according to information from the state.

Applying for this funding wasn’t an endeavor by a single administrator. Biederwolf credited people throughout the district, including teachers and parents, for working together on a plan that resulted in getting this funding.

“It was a very collaborative undertaking,” Biederwolf said.

“It will enable us to bring great programming to kids,” he added.

Eligibility for the grants was determined by student achievement needs based on state testing and how those districts plan to make necessary improvements in the schools, according to a press release from the state.

“This is a tremendous opportunity for the schools that develop thoughtful and precise plans to help give their students the best chance to succeed,” State Superintendent of Public Instruction Mike Flanagan said. “We have strong expectations that these federal grant dollars will bring dramatic improvement and be used to move students to greater academic success.”

While the funding must be used for specific needs and cannot be utilized to supplement the district’s general fund, there are some fundamental improvements and programs that students will see in the fall.

For instance, the district will be taking part in the City Year program, which enables recent college graduates to come into the classrooms and assist as leaders in the schools.

“They’ll function similarly to classroom aides,” Biederwolf said.

There are other programs that will focus on improving student achievement among all Harper Woods students.

“We’ll have before- and after-school learning opportunities for kids,” Biederwolf said. “We’re pretty excited about that.”

Instructional specialists in reading and math will be in the schools, as well.

“Our reading and math data, while it is up over the last couple of years, remains significantly below state averages,” Biederwolf said.

Technology improvements will also be funded with this grant money in the form of laptops and e-book readers for student use and resources for boosting parent and community involvement.

Other districts targeted for this funding include Detroit Public Schools, Roseville Community Schools and River Rouge School District, according to state information.

“Education is a key component in the effort to drive Michigan’s economic recovery,” Flanagan said. “These federal funds will enable 24 schools across the state to improve student achievement and prepare their students for the employment demands of the 21st century.”

Harper Woods plans to start using the funding for professional development over the summer, with the programs that benefit the students launching in the classrooms in the fall.