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December 11, 2012 at 10:33 AM

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King County school districts win $40 million Race to the Top grant

The seven King County school districts that banded together three years ago under the Road Map District Consortium have made impressive strides. The districts - Auburn, Federal Way, Highline, Kent, Renton, Seattle and Tukwila are poised to do more after word this morning that they had won a $40 million Race to the Top federal grant.

This is exciting for its potential to change the academic trajectories of south King County schools. Credit district superintendents and teachers union leaders for working together. Credit local mayors and even the King County Housing Authority for understanding the responsibility for educating children stretches beyond the schoolhouse. Equally as impressive is Mary Jean Ryan, a longtime education advocate and executive director for the Community Center for Education Results. Her vision of a regional partnership is a smart template that ought to be picked up in other places.

This Seattle Times editorial said as much, underscoring the galvanizing power of a group effort, rather than individual school districts working in isolation, unable to affect more than a few students.

The King County districts' application was among 16 winners selected out of 372 applications. Awards range from $5 million to $40 million. But get this, the Road Map District Consortium was one of only two applicants to win the maximum award of $40 million. That's huge.

The four-year Race to the Top grant will fund efforts around early learning, increased academic rigor in the K-12 system and raising high school graduation rates. Efforts are built around the apt moniker: “Start Strong,” be “STEM Strong” and “Stay Strong.”

In addition to an emphasis on early learning programs to improve kindergarten readiness, the grant will be used to improve the quality of instruction in math and science and for English Language Learners.

The money will fund free SAT and PSAT tests and train middle and high school guidance counselors and provide counselor assistants. More Advanced Placement courses will be offered and more teachers trained to teach the courses. The same with science, technology, engineering and math-focused courses and international offerings.

Keep an eye on south King County schools. They raced successfully to the top.

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