Durham schools pursuing federal magnet schools grant

Feb. 14, 2013 @ 06:07 PM

Durham Public Schools can now move forward with plans to seek as much as $12 million in grant funds from the federal Department of Education for five new magnet programs.

On Thursday, the DPS Board of Education voted unanimously to approve a component of the grant request that lays out the district’s plan to pursue racial and socioeconomic balance.

Bill Carruthers, CEO of GrantProse, is working as a consultant on the DOE grant request. He told board members during the special meeting that applications from around the country are due March 1. Carruthers said that 125 applicants may be vying for $100 million in grant funds and offered a 35 percent chance that DPS might get its grant.

“Fingers crossed, it could be Durham,” he said.

If approved, the three-year grant would support the following DPS magnet schools:

-- Holt Year-Round Language Academy, which offers Mandarin Chinese and Spanish.

-- Lowe’s Grove Middle School, which is a technology-focused campus based on a science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) curriculum.

-- Neal Middle School, which is a STEM school focused on engineering and design.

-- The School for Creative Studies, taking over the old Chewning Middle School site, which offers a year-round program for sixth to 12th grades geared toward media, communication and design arts.

-- Southern School of Energy and Sustainability, which is a STEM high school.

The district should know early this summer whether it has made the final cut for consideration. If DPS gets the federal grant, the money probably wouldn’t start flowing into the district until October, Carruthers said.

The plan calls for the district to make strides against social, racial, ethnic and economic isolation, to foster student diversity, to ensure equitable access and to provide specialized programs that appeal to a variety of Durham students.

Board member Frederick Davis wondered what would happen to the grant if the district couldn’t meet goals set out in the plan.

“If the plan is approved and we find ourselves not implementing it, what happens then?” he asked.

Lewis Ferebee, DPS chief of staff, replied: “One, we’re going to follow our plan. If we can’t meet our targets, we’ll adjust and redirect accordingly.”

Superintendent Eric Becoats told Davis that the district will aim to achieve goals, even if they don’t necessarily hit all their targets.

It should be enough that DPS is striving for balance, Carruthers said, even if the district doesn’t reach all the marks set out in their plan.

“They’re probably not going to hold it against you, especially if you’re making progress,” he said. The feds don’t make a habit of yanking funds unless they are particularly unhappy with something the district has done, he added.

“The worst case, they might not give the second or third year funding,” he said.

Board member Omega Curtis Parker said that if the administration doesn’t seem to be making adequate progress with the plan, then “we put it on the shoulders of the superintendent to get on the backs of his people to see that it is working properly.”

But what happens if the odds don’t fall for Durham? What if DPS fails to get any grant money, let alone a fraction of the $12 million?

“We’re still going to move forward with the magnet programs,” Ferebee said. “The money definitely helps to enhance our programs, but if we don’t get this, we’ll seek other ways to assure that the programs we’re offering are rich and what we promised they would be.”

Follow on Twitter at @HS_WesPlatt. Connect on Facebook at facebook.com/wesplattheraldsun.