Norwalk Public Schools will apply for a federal grant that could net the district between $20 and $25 million over a five-year span.
Superintendent Dr. Manuel Rivera announced Tuesday the school district has applied for a Race to the Top (RTT) - District grant provided by the U.S. Dept. of Education.
Should Norwalk be awarded the grant, Rivera said the district would seek to integrate "learning commons" into school libraries -- information centers Rivera described as areas where four to six students could work on project-driven curriculum.
"They would have access to any information they wanted through state-of-the-art technology," Rivera said. "It's about making learning more personalized."
The RTT grant application is clear about its focus on personalized learning. According to the RTT application executive summary (found online here), a district must explicitly describe how it plans to "improve learning through the personalization of strategies, tools and supports for students and educators that are aligned with college- and career-ready standards."
In an application, a school district must lay out its vision for reform; demonstrate a track record of success; demonstrate stakeholder engagement and support in the implementation of the grant; explain how it would use the grant to prepare students for college and careers; and put forth a sustainable budget for use of the grant.
In its application, Norwalk Public Schools touts its "Cradle to Career" approach, which aims to have students reading at grade level by third grade, algebra-ready by eighth grade and college-ready by 12th grade.
The district points to its planned implementation of Common Core State Standards, which it began putting in place three years ago. Common Core is expected to be fully implemented in Norwalk schools by 2015. Of note, Norwalk's application touts the city's early literacy programs and elementary mathematics results.
According to Norwalk's application, the percentage of Norwalk K-5 students meeting math benchmarks at the end of the school year has been much higher compared to in the middle of the year. Essentially, the application says Norwalk's elementary students are getting better in math as the year progresses.
Board of Education chairman Mike Lyons said the district would partner with Norwalk ACTS to ensure the community was in sync with schools' administration.
"[The plan for the RTT grant] is real state-of-the-art thinking," he said. "And it's not just the technology. It's the community involvement."
The grant money would be spread throughout the city at every grade level, Rivera said.
The superintendent also said the money would also cover professional training and other miscellaneous costs related to the installation of the learning commons.
Rivera and Lyons both acknowledged Norwalk faces "stiff competition." In 2012, RTT awarded $383 million in grant money to 16 district winners. Rivera said he was informed over 600 districts applied.
The deadline to apply is Oct. 3. Rivera said he expects Norwalk's application to be submitted Wednesday.