Race to the Top Projects in Progress

Wireless technology, better professional development for classified staff and support for STEM education are just some of the ways the $9.9 million in Race to the Top funding is being put to work in GCS. Tony Watlington, the district's strategic planning and project management officer, says the extra funds will help GCS go "farther faster" in reaching its goals for improvement.

"Race to the Top dollars provide fuel to strategies included in the Strategic Plan," he says. "They are helping us improve technology in our buildings and provide better training to our teachers and classified staff."

The funding received through the federal Race to the Top grant will support the district through 2014. It is divided into five areas. One of the largest areas is technology for school buildings. Installation of wireless access points is currently underway in elementary schools. The wireless capabilities will help schools participate in the North Carolina Education Cloud, a server infrastructure that will support K-12 education statewide. The funds also will help with technology upgrades related to assessments. "This will help us become more efficient in turning data around," Watlington says.

Some of the funding will help GCS provide more professional development opportunities to GCS employees. While much of the professional development will focus on the state's new Common Core and Essential Standards, the district is also looking for ways to improve opportunities for classified staff. A project team led by the Professional Development department is creating a master design of the district's needs.

Additionally, the funds provide support for STEM education. A visible result is the new Middle College at UNCG, which provides high school students with a chance to focus on health sciences. GCS will also use some of the Race to the Top funding to turn around low achieving schools, an area where GCS has already shown growth in recent years.

An area teachers may have heard about relating to Race to the Top is the state's requirement to include EVAAS or value-added data in teacher evaluations. While the state is still working through some of the details for how EVAAS data will be used, GCS is planning trainings for employees to help them understand the data and will start using the data in teacher, assistant principal and principal evaluations this year.

To make sure everyone is prepared for this change, the district will hire a value-added data specialist to conduct staff trainings and will provide employees with more access to the data. GCS is also beginning discussions with deans of education from local colleges and universities so new teacher and administrator graduates will understand how the data is used. The Talent Development Office has provided some training resources to help employees learn more about EVAAS and value added data, and the materials are available on the Mission Possible website.

Watlington says teachers and other employees played an important role in getting the Race to the Top projects going. If anyone is interested in being connected with a specific project or learning more, contact him at watlint@gcsnc.com or 378-8838.