GCS Wins $30 Million Race to the Top-District Grant

GCS staff and confetti Guilford County Schools (GCS) is one of just 16 winners of the U.S. Department of Education's Race to the Top-District competition, announced today. The $30 million grant is the largest in GCS history.

GCS's PACE Schools Project will create and stimulate student-led learning in the district's 24 middle schools and reach nearly 17,000 students and almost 1,400 faculty members.

"We are thrilled by this news," said Superintendent Maurice "Mo" Green. "This grant will allow us to personalize learning for all students in grades six through eight."

The grant will purchase tablet technology for every student; offer training and support to students, families, teachers, and principals; and add PACE coordinators at the middle schools to lead this foundational change in teaching and learning.

Student-led learning will be creative and active, with students working daily on tablets equipped with personalized "learning maps" that track each student's mastery of concepts. Students who need more time to master concepts can take it without pressure to rush, and those ready to dive deeper into topics can choose from enrichment and accelerated-learning activities that interest them. 

"This technology, which will combine textbook information and Internet resources in one place, will literally put the world at our students' fingertips," said Dr. Terrence Young, the district's chief information officer and PACE Schools Project leader. "These schools will be the pacesetters for the district in offering new, high-tech learning opportunities for all our students."

The U.S. Department of Education announced the winners on Dec. 11. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said, "The Race to the Top-District grantees have shown tremendous leadership though developing plans that will transform the learning environment and enable students to receive a personalized, world-class education."

The winners represent 55 school districts across 11 states and Washington, D.C. The districts will share nearly $400 million to support locally developed plans to personalize student learning, directly improve student achievement and educator effectiveness, close achievement gaps, and prepare every student to succeed in college and their careers. GCS' proposal ranked fourth of all the applications, and received the second-highest award. Two districts received $40 million and one other district received $30 million.

On November 26, GCS was named one of 61 finalists in the competition. The Department of Education received 372 applications, involving 1,193 districts. Of those 372 applications, 61 finalists, representing more than 200 districts, were selected.

GCS chose the Personalized Achievement, Curriculum and Environment (PACE) Schools Project because it views grades six through eight as a critical time to challenge and support students. Research shows there is a clear link between early interventions and decreased dropout rates, and increased college- and career-ready graduates.

In addition, district data indicate slowing gains in proficiency among GCS middle schools in the past four years. The district has been able to focus significant reform programs at the elementary and high school levels, and the Race to the Top-District grant will allow GCS to focus a comprehensive strategy in grades six through eight.

GCS comes to the Race to the Top-District competition with a strong track record for using forward-thinking strategies and with a good foundation for offering students personalized learning:

  • GCS launched its current strategic plan, a roadmap for driving district goals, in January 2009. The plan focused on initiatives supporting academic, character development and operational goals. New projects that came out of the strategic plan included a prototype technology elementary school; starting The Middle College at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and The STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Early College at North Carolina A&T State University; developing Guilford Parent Academy; creating innovative ways to increase achievement at low-performing schools, and starting a comprehensive, district-wide service-learning program.
  • The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction selected GCS as the pilot district for a national partnership called the Shared Learning Collaborative (SLC). SLC is an alliance of districts, states, foundations, educators and content providers working to accelerate technology use in the classroom by creating shared technology resources for states, districts and schools.
  • GCS is using $9.9 million in Race to the Top funding from the state to support improved standards and assessments; data systems to improve instruction; development of teachers and leaders; turnaround of lowest-achieving schools, and STEM initiatives. The new grant builds on this work.

Quick Facts about GCS

GCS is the state's third-largest district and is among the 50 largest districts in the United States.  GCS serves more than 72,000 students representing the following ethic groups: American Indian - 0.57%; Asian - 5.75%; Black - 40.76%; Hispanic - 12.03%; Multi-Racial - 3.74%; Pacific Islander - 0.15%; White - 36.98%. More than half (56.58 percent) of the study body qualifies for free or reduced price lunch.

GCS has the highest graduation rate of North Carolina's largest five districts at 84.5 percent in 2012. The GCS Class of 2012 earned a record-breaking $139 million in scholarships.

Based on state accountability measures:

  • The number of GCS schools earning the top Honor School of Excellence/School of Excellencerating from the state has increased fromone in 2007-08 to 19 in 2011-12.
  • More than one-third of GCS schools are designated Honor Schools of Excellence, Schools of Excellence or Schools of Distinction by the state (the highest designations).