At their Wednesday morning work session, board members discussed the grant application, spent more than an hour talking about how to implement the “flipped classroom” and Bring Your Own Device programs, and decided not to move forward with a lawsuit against the state for Quality Basic Education funds.
Hinojosa learned about the grant three weeks ago in an email from the federal Department of Education. He isn’t required to have the board’s approval for grant applications, but said after the meeting that he “didn’t even want to push that gas pedal down based upon the last grant.”
In January, some board members were unhappy when they learned that he had applied for a $350,000 grant with Teach For America and a $50,000 grant for a start-up charter called STEM Inventors Academy.
“We want to make sure that at least the majority of the board was comfortable going after it,” he said.
Hinojosa plans to bring the final application back before the board in early fall for consideration.
“Whatever ideas we come back with, we’ll definitely come back to the board for them to discuss in a public meeting,” he said after the meeting.
The grant money could be used for anything that the district wants, including salaries or for the newly mandated College and Career Ready Pathways initiative that the Georgia Department of Education will be implementing starting in the fall of 2013 in lieu of No Child Left Behind.
However, Chief Academic Officer Dr. Judi Jones said they won’t know what the money would be spent on until after the grant is prepared, which riled some board members.
“I want to know what you want to do with that $25 million,” Lynnda Eagle said. “I don’t want to prevent us from getting more money or from preventing the superintendent from moving ahead, but again, I think that if our job too is to protect our employees and look out for everything, we have to ask those hard questions.”
Kathleen Angelucci, who opposed applying for the grant when running for the board seat in 2010, seemed to hang onto that same judgment during Wednesday’s meeting.
“It expands the federal role in education,” she said. “We are exchanging our local control for money, and that very much bothers me.”
Even so, Angelucci thanked Hinojosa for asking for their input, because she was so upset after he applied for the other two Race to the Top grants without advising the board.
Bartlett, who represents central Cobb, said she was concerned that the district would be on the hook for anything they use the grant for after it expires.
“Every report that I’m reading on the Race to the Top grants are that most of the systems are finding that the costs are not going to be sustainable in the future, and that’s a real concern for me because we already have serious budget issues,” she said.
Hinojosa said the district should “build a safeguard” so that issue doesn’t come across their table at a later date if they were to receive the grant money.
Tim Stultz, who represents southeast Cobb, said nothing good could come out of the grant.
“There’s a possibility that there will be a new administration in D.C. next year, and Race to the Top might not still be around,” he said. “There’s too much uncertainty and too many strings attached, and … I can’t support it.”
Vice Chair David Morgan told Stultz it’s too early to reject the grant based on those concerns.
“If the strings attached are too much and we are tying the hands of future boards, then we will clearly see that in the information,” he said. “(We should) give them an opportunity to write it.”
The grant specifics will be released sometime in July, the submission date is around September and the awards will be granted on Dec. 31.
The grant application outlines five priorities, of which the district must meet two to qualify. Jones recommends the district focus on personalized learning with students and performance-based teacher evaluations, which will be required by the state department of education in fall 2013.
Hinojosa’s predecessor was not interested in seeking Race to the Top dollars.
In January 2010, then-Superintendent Fred Sanderson recommended in a memo to the board that the district wait for more details before seeking any part of the $462 million in Race to the Top money that the state of Georgia had sought.
Twenty-three other districts in Georgia did apply for a portion of those funds, including Gwinnett, which is the only district in the state that is larger than Cobb, and Cherokee.
Cobb’s school board, though, never even discussed the issue in open session.
In the summer of that year, during the primary elections, then-candidates Scott Sweeney and Angelucci both told the Journal that they did not think the district should seek federal Race to the Top dollars in the future.
Said Sweeney: “With federal dollars, you know there are long, strong strings attached and at what cost. You give up what makes this community so special: local control. … Federal programs are usually proven to be very inefficient. The costs for Race To The Top funds from a dollar, resource, administrative and time perspective are likely to outweigh the proposed program cost benefits. This is especially true when considering the unfunded mandate costs the Cobb County School District will realize by adopting Race To The Top initiatives.”
In regards to the flipped classroom and BYOD programs, the board heard from Deputy Superintendent of Operations Chris Ragsdale and Jones about how they would work. The district is planning on implementing BYOD at Lost Mountain, Daniell and Floyd middle schools and the flipped classroom initiative at Dodgen, Smitha and Pine Mountain middle schools.
Ragsdale said his goal next year for the BYOD program — in which students would be encouraged to bring laptops, tablets and other electronic devices to class — would be to determine what devices students will bring, if the program is safe, if students and teachers are ready for it, and what the benefits of it are.
Jones said a “flipped classroom” is a class in which students watch lectures at home and do work in the class.
“We are changing the way that we are doing business,” she said, adding that the program would not replace teachers.
Angelucci asked if there were any districts where they could see the success rate behind the two programs.
“The students could fall further behind because the human connection is gone,” Angelucci said. “I need more hard data and assurance that this is successful. I want to see how it’s made a real difference.”
However, she did agree with Eagle that the initiative would encourage students to be more responsible for their instruction and allow parents to get more involved.
“I don’t think all the responsibility belongs to the school,” Eagle said. “The responsibility belongs to parents … If our goal is to help students become independent learners, they’ve got to assume some of that responsibility.”
Bartlett, who was worried about expanding teacher workload with the initiative, asked what would happen if parents didn’t want their child to participate in a flipped classroom, to which Jones replied that the child would be moved to another class.
Hinojosa was introduced to the programs a few months ago at the National School Board Association Meeting in Massachusetts. At that time, he heard from Sal Khan, the creator of a free online tutorial website called Khan Academy that some districts have used to complement traditional lectures.
In other news, the board decided not to move forward with suing the state for failing to fully fund QBE since 2003.
Bartlett had asked that it be placed on the agenda with hopes that it would be a possibility.
“My goal was that we would agree to talk to other school districts and see what the interest was,” she said after the work session. “My feedback (Wednesday) is that the Cobb County School Board does not desire to sue the state and hold them accountable.”
Bartlett said she didn’t plan on bringing the topic back up but would just wait to see what happens in the November presidential election.