24 May Buncombe County Schools Seeking Federal Money for Community High (NC)

May 24, 2010

By: Julie Ball
Source: Asheville Citizen-Times

A federal grant could mean $3.75 million over three years for improvements to Buncombe County’s alternative school, but it could also leave some of the staff there looking for new jobs.

Buncombe County school officials have applied for a federal School Improvement Grant for Community High School. The money targets low-performing schools, including those with low graduation rates.

Community High has about 190 students and had a four-year cohort graduation rate of 47.2 percent in the 2008-09 school year.

As a condition of the grant and the model the school would be using to improve, the staff of about 30 people would have to reapply for their jobs. The school can rehire no more than half the current staff.

“When you apply for these grants, you have to choose one of four federal models that are given to you to engage in school improvement,” said Lori Brown, grant writer for Buncombe County Schools. “We chose the turnaround model.”

Using the turnaround model, schools replace the principal and rehire no more than 50 percent of the staff.

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The principal also is given flexibility “to implement a comprehensive approach to substantially improve student outcome,” according to the state Department of Public Instruction.

Community High Principal Tiffany Little does not have to be replaced because she has been on the job there less than two years, according to Susanne Swanger, associate superintendent with Buncombe County Schools.

Little, who has experience with the turnaround model when she worked in Charlotte, will remain as principal.

Teachers at the school contacted by the Citizen-Times declined to comment.

Community High students include those who have not succeeded in a larger high school setting. Students referred to the school also include teen parents and students with attendance issues.

If the school gets the grant money, Swanger said the school system must offer employment elsewhere in the system to those employees who have tenure but are not rehired at Community High.

For nontenured workers, “We will also help those not under contract by sharing information such as resumes with principals who are in need of teachers or employees,” she said in an e-mail.

The bulk of the federal grant funding would go toward hiring personnel including two curriculum coaches, one “turnaround specialist,” one career development coordinator, one social worker, one nurse, two career technical education teachers, one special education teacher and one computer lab assistant.

Brown said school officials could learn in June whether the system will get the money.

“We are sort of excited about getting the grant. We are just excited about where this could take us,” Little said in an interview earlier this month.

Between $65 million and $66 million is available in North Carolina. However, the state received nearly $122 million in grant requests from 25 schools.

In Western North Carolina, Jackson County school officials also have applied for federal dollars for the county’s alternative school, said Charlotte Duren with the Department of Public Instruction.

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