CHATTANOOGA -- The Tennessee Department of Education has approved granting Hamilton County education officials more than $10 million over three years to boost achievement at its five lowest-performing schools.
But the money comes with a catch -- the schools must show improvement on test scores after the first year in order to keep the funds.
The Chattanooga Times Free Press (http://bit.ly/X8sOEk) reports the money will go to the district's school innovation zone, which is an effort to boost academic achievement at Brainerd High, Dalewood Middle, Orchard Knob Elementary, Orchard Knob Middle and Woodmore Elementary. The newspaper reports the schools are mostly inner-city and poor with a high number of black students.
School officials say they plan to use the money to increase classroom time, add more specialized programs and increase pay for some iZone teachers. Some school principals have been replaced and new hires are being made.
"We just feel really positive right now that what we've done is going to be fruitful," Superintendent Rick Smith said.
The announcement came after administrators reworked a rejected 2012 proposal.
The state has for decades awarded pieces of the federal School Improvement Grant program, which has few restrictions on how the money can be spent but it now requires districts to set up iZones to make improvements at struggling schools.
In an effort to increase achievement, principals who had served at least three years in the schools were transferred and faculty who taught math, science, social studies and reading had to reapply for their positions.
"We want the most effective teachers in the district in these very challenged schools," said Rita Fentress, who oversees the School Improvement Grant program at the Tennessee Department of Education.
The iZone designation means district officials focus on recruiting the best teachers, strong school leadership and extended class time. In addition, Fentress said it means those schools are a top priority and are freed from some educational regulations. For instance, they can pay teachers more, have a longer school day and they'll be first in line to receive funds for new items such as technology.
"They're given priority for (dealing with) anything that would impede their progress," Fentress said.
Information from: Chattanooga Times Free Press, http://www.timesfreepress.com