Dawson James

H.V. Jenkins High School
Savannah, Georgia
Dawson James, Freshman Student

As a 9th grade student ambassador from the Savannah Chatham County Public School System in Georgia, I would like to share my recent experiences with the new hybrid school system. I have been virtual for most of the school year, but recently I returned to school in person as part of a phased in hybrid learning program. My time with virtual learning has been strange because every teacher does virtual learning differently. They do by using different platforms, letting us “attend class” at different times to do schoolwork, or even the way they deal with internet and technology problems. I have dealt with these situations by being patient and waiting for issues to be fixed. I show up early to my classes so that I can get important news and information.  I make sure to participate in class so that I understand the information better and can ask questions as they arise. Through this virtual experience, I have realized how much technology has grown to be a part of our lives and how important it is in our current situation. Also, I have realized how difficult it is for teachers to teach through technology since students can abuse technology and find a way to walk away from classes or ignore assignments. With the new hybrid learning program, it has become much easier to teach and learn! Hybrid learning allows a set number of students to return to school in person two days a week (Monday/Tuesday or Thursday/Friday) with Wednesday being a deep clean day at school. Wednesday is also a self-guided learning day for students with full access to our teachers. Hybrid learning has allowed me to go to school and enjoy in person education which eliminates many of the distractions that students, including myself, face when at home. In addition to removing distractions that make virtual learning difficult, hybrid learning allows students to develop the responsibility that is built when you attend normal school. This responsibility includes; attending all classes on time, participating in classes, and following rules that are in place to protect students. This is especially true for 6th and 9th graders (like me) since they have never experienced the new environment of the school they are attending. I can see why hybrid learning is important to seniors because this is their last year of school until they leave for college. The hybrid learning program being used in our county has proven to be effective in teaching students and, in my opinion, is important to a large part of the student population for a variety of reasons. In addition to the positive learning environment created by hybrid learning, it also has created a safe environment for students in terms of COVID-19, by allowing only students who feel safe going back to school to do so, and not forcing them into a situation where they are uncomfortable. It also reminds students to follow COVID-19 safety procedures. In conclusion, virtual learning has been replaced by hybrid learning which has proven to be effective in teaching students in person without distractions and with constant safety from the COVID-19 crisis. I truly believe that it is one of the best programs we could have that fits the needs of all students and not just one group.

Considerations for Dual Eligible LEAs


Alternative use of funds authority[1] Dual-eligible LEAs may participate All eligible LEAs may participate
Award disbursement State Educational Agencies (SEAs) disburse RLIS funds to LEAs U.S. Department of Education (ED) disburses SRSA funds to LEAs
Technical Assistance (TA) SEAs provide TA to RLIS grantees ED provided technical assistance to SRSA grantees
Applying for the grant LEAs apply for RLIS funds according to their SEA’s application procedures LEAs apply for SRSA funds according to ED’s application procedures.
Type of funding (competitive vs. formula) SEAs may award RLIS funds competitively or according to a funding formula ED awards SRSA funds according to a funding formula
Obligation period 27-months (e.g., for FY 2017 awards, the obligation period will be July 1, 2017 through September 30, 2019) 15-months (e.g., for FY 2017 awards, the obligation period will be July 1, 2017 through September 30, 2018)
Impact of other Federal funds on grant awards[2] LEA grant awards are based on the SEA’s procedures for awarding RLIS funds; therefore, grants awarded under other Title programs may or may not impact the amount of an LEA’s RLIS grant award. LEA grant awards are reduced by the amount of Title II-A and Title IV-A funds the LEA received in the preceding fiscal year.
Funding limits Federal statute does not set a limit on the amount of funds an LEA may receive each grant period. The maximum amount of funds an LEA may receive, by statute, is $60,000.
Uses of funds Grant funds may be used to support any of the following:

  1. Title I, Part A (Improving Basic Programs Operated by Local Education Agencies) activities;
  2. Title II, Part A (Supporting Effective Instruction) activities;
  3. Title III (Language Instruction for English Learners and Immigrant Students) activities;
  4. Title IV, Part A (Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants) activities; and
  5. Parental involvement activities.
Grant funds may be used to support activities authorized under any of the following ESEA “Title” programs:

  1. Title I, Part A (Improving Basic Programs Operated by Local Education Agencies);
  2. Title II, Part A (Supporting Effective Instruction) activities;
  3. Title III (Language Instruction for English Learners and Immigrant Students) activities;
  4. Title IV, Part A (Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants) activities; and
  5. Title IV, Part B (21st Century Community Learning Centers)



[1] The alternative use of funds authority provides flexibility to SRSA-eligible LEAs to use Title II, Part A and Title IV, Part A formula funds to support local activities under an array of Federal programs in order to assist them in addressing local academic needs more effectively. (See Section 5211(a) of the ESEA, as amended, for more information.) An SRSA-eligible LEA does not have to apply for SRSA funds in order to exercise the alternative use of funds authority. An LEA that is eligible for both SRSA and RLIS may exercise this authority even if the LEA chooses to participate in RLIS instead of SRSA. Regardless of which program the LEA chooses, the LEA must notify its SEA on an annual basis on or before the notification deadline established by the SEA of its intent to exercise the authority. LEAs should reach out to their SEA contact for more information about the SEA’s reporting requirements deadline.



[2] SRSA grant amounts are based on a statutory formula that takes into account several factors, including the amount of funds an LEA received during the preceding fiscal year under the Title II, Part A program and the newly authorized Title IV, Part A (Student Support and Academic Enrichment program). The first awards for Title IV, Part A will be made with FY 2017 funds. Therefore, for purposes of calculating SRSA grant awards, the Department will not take into consideration Title IV, Part A funds until the FY 2018 grant cycle.



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Rights of Students with Disabilities in Public Charter Schools

The Office of Innovation and Improvement hosted a webinar with the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) and the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) on the Rights of Students with Disabilities in Public Charter Schools.

The webinar, pre-recorded, is available at this and can be downloaded: https://educateevents.webex.com/educateevents/lsr.php?RCID=da97d1c606dc936a8fee8c45b9aea72f

In addition, transcripts for the webinar and the presentation itself are also available.

The webinar is a presentation and brief Q & A of the guidance package released on December 28, 2016 developed by the OCR and OSERS.  The U.S. Department of Education released guidance to assist the public in understanding how the Department interprets and enforces federal civil rights laws protecting the rights of students with disabilities. These guidance documents clarify the rights of students with disabilities and the responsibilities of educational institutions in ensuring that all students have the opportunity to learn.


The guidance released this week includes a parent and educator resource guide; a Dear Colleague letter (DCL) and question and answer document on the use of restraint and seclusion in public schools; and a DCL and question and answer documents on the rights of students with disabilities in public charter schools.

The Parent and Educator Resource Guide to Section 504 in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools, issued by the Department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR), provides a broad overview of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504). The guidance describes school districts’ nondiscrimination responsibilities, including obligations to provide educational services to students with disabilities, and outlines the steps parents can take to ensure that their children secure all of the services they are entitled to receive.

Among other things, the Section 504 Parent and Educator Resource Guide:

  • Defines and provides examples to illustrate the meaning of key terms used in Section 504.
  • Highlights requirements of Section 504 in the area of public elementary and secondary education, including provisions related to the identification, evaluation, and placement of students with disabilities, and procedures for handling disputes and disagreements between parents and school districts.

The second guidance package released by OCR addresses the circumstances under which use of restraint or seclusion can result in discrimination against students with disabilities, in violation of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The Department’s May 15, 2012, Restraint and Seclusion: Resource Document suggested best practices to prevent the use of restraint or seclusion, recommending that school districts never use physical restraint or seclusion for disciplinary purposes and never use mechanical restraint, and that trained school officials use physical restraint or seclusion only if a child’s behavior poses imminent danger of serious physical harm to self or others. The DCL and question and answer document released this week offer additional information about the legal limitations on use of restraint or seclusion to assist school districts in meeting their obligations to students with disabilities.

The third guidance package released this week was developed by OCR and the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS). The jointly-issued Dear Colleague Letter and question and answer documents will help update educators, parents, students, and other stakeholders to better understand the rights of students with disabilities in public charter schools under Section 504 and IDEA. These documents provide information about how to provide equal opportunity in compliance with Section 504 in key areas such as charter school recruitment, application, admission, enrollment and disenrollment, accessibility of facilities and programs, and nonacademic and extracurricular activities. The documents are responsive to the U.S. Government Accountability Office’s 2012 report, Charter Schools: Additional Federal Attention Needed to Help Protect Access for Students with Disabilities, which included the recommendation that the Department issue updated guidance on the obligations of charter schools.

“It is critical to ensure that children with disabilities have access to a free appropriate public education in charter schools,” said Sue Swenson, delegated the authority to perform the functions and duties of the Department’s assistant secretary for special education and rehabilitative services. “These guidance documents are designed to support states, local education agencies, and charter school personnel to understand their responsibilities under IDEA and Section 504.”

The Section 504 Charter guidance:

  • Explains that charter school students with disabilities (and those seeking to attend) have the same rights under Section 504 and Title II of the ADA as other public school students with disabilities.
  • Details the Section 504 right to nondiscrimination in recruitment, application, and admission to charter schools.
  • Clarifies that during the admission process a charter school generally may not ask a prospective student if he or she has a disability.
  • Reminds charter schools, other entities, and parents that charter school students with disabilities have the right to a free appropriate public education (FAPE) under Section 504.

The IDEA Charter guidance:

  • Emphasizes that children with disabilities who attend charter schools and their parents retain all rights and protections under Part B of IDEA (such as FAPE) just as they would at other public schools.
  • Provides that under IDEA a charter school may not unilaterally limit the services that must be provided a particular student with a disability.
  • Reminds schools that the least restrictive environment provisions require that, to the maximum extent appropriate, students with disabilities attending public schools, including public charter schools, be educated with students who are nondisabled.
  • Clarifies that students with disabilities attending charter schools retain all IDEA rights and protections included in the IDEA discipline procedures.

In addition to these documents, the Department also released a Know Your Rights document designed for parents to provide a brief overview of the rights of public charter school students with disabilities and the legal obligations of charter schools under Section 504 and the IDEA.

The mission of OCR is to ensure equal access to education and to promote educational excellence throughout the nation through the vigorous enforcement of civil rights. Among the federal civil rights laws OCR is responsible for enforcing are Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972; Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973; and Title II of the ADA. The mission of OSERS is to improve early childhood, educational, and employment outcomes and raise expectations for all people with disabilities, their families, their communities, and the nation. OSERS is responsible for administering the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004 (IDEA).

Districts realize the personalized learning vision, see its future

District superintendents across the country have taken on a range of bold approaches to improving students’ experiences in public education. Across these innovations, districts have embraced the notion that empowering students and their teachers is an effective way to improve student outcomes.

At a Nov. 15 convening, hosted by the White House Domestic Policy Council and the Office of Innovation and Improvement at the U.S. Department of Education (ED), our nation’s leading district superintendents overwhelmingly expressed an optimistic sense of purpose. Motivated by their successes with personalized learning across schools in their districts, a ringing call to action for these leaders came out of this Washington summit: give more students and educators the opportunity to experience personalized learning.

The Obama administration’s investment in personalized learning resulted from “a vision and drive for improving how we teach and engage our learners,” said Roberto Rodríguez, Deputy Assistant to the President for Education. “And we need more of that across the country.”

wh-blog-1For superintendents, this means enhancing the efforts seeded by ED’s Race to the Top–District (RTT–D) program, connecting with other district leaders who are implementing personalized learning, and scaling up efforts across districts.

“We have transformed the learning for our students and our districts,” said Dena Cushenberry, superintendent of Metropolitan School District of Warren Township, Indiana.

Since implementing personalized learning, districts and schools have seen rising levels of student engagement, improved graduation and college enrollment rates, reduced discipline rates and greater teacher retention. All these outcomes have moved the needle towards providing an equitable, high-quality public education for students in schools nationwide. Nadya Chinoy Dabby, Assistant Deputy Secretary for Innovation and Improvement, said, “Personalization presents a unique opportunity for schools to better understand—and meet—each student’s unique learning needs. Equity goes hand-in-hand with personalization.”

Superintendents identified three areas fundamental to scaling success in personalized learning: creating the right infrastructure, providing meaningful professional development and ensuring sustainability of the changes.

Investment in infrastructure can mean building in time and support for teachers and leaders to embrace the new approaches, and practicing a tenet of personalized learning: trust.

wh-blog-2 “The most innovative thing we’ve done is trust people,” said David Richards, superintendent of Fraser Public Schools, Michigan. “Give people the time, resources and opportunity to grow on their own. Everybody’s A-B is different on this journey.”

At Kettle Moraine School District in Wisconsin, Superintendent Patricia Deklotz found that they “had to give teachers the opportunity to experience personalized learning” for themselves. This was an effective professional development model and cultivated buy-in from teachers.

“You can’t truly realize the personalized learning vision unless learners actually embrace those competencies and have the personal skills to navigate and engage their own learning,” said Thomas Rooney, superintendent of Lindsay Unified School District, California, an RTT–D grantee.

Superintendents are looking to maintain their progress. There are several relevant opportunities within the Every Student Succeeds Act. Also, districts are tapping into their communities’ assets – like local businesses, service providers and teacher colleges – to best meet the needs of their students, families wh-blog-3 and teachers.

With a strong foundation laid, district and school leaders are positioned to sustain personalized learning and spread this approach across the nation.

“There are a lot of unknowns,” said Katrina Stevens, Deputy Director of the Office of Educational Technology at the U.S. Department of Education. “But one thing that’s clear to me: This work is going to move forward because of the passion and dedication of local leaders.”

Want to learn more? Contact RTT–D Team Lead Andrea Browning, or visit the RTT–D website.

Investing in Educators to Create District-wide Change in Ascension Parish, LA

Great educators can transform the lives and learning of students. To ensure that every student has access to great educators, particularly in our nation’s most underserved schools, The U.S. Department of Education (Department) recently released non-regulatory guidance on Title II, Part A of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Title II, Part A funds can be used to train, develop, and support educators, and the new guidance encourages states and districts to think boldly about how they use these funds. The guidance highlights recommended strategies and creative approaches currently being implemented by organizations throughout the country, including grantees supported by competitive grants run by the Department’s Office of Innovation and Improvement (OII). Several of OII’s grants support innovative approaches by states, districts, teacher preparation programs, and nonprofits, to realize the goals outlined in Title II, Part A – improve supports for educators to increase student academic achievement. States and districts may want to consider some of these approaches as they begin planning their Title II, Part A investments.

“I had a plan and knew I would figure out the dollars later, to make it happen.” Then-superintendent of Ascension Public Schools in Louisiana, Dr. Patrice Pujol, recalls her plan to put people at the center of the school district’s reform efforts, and in particular, develop the leadership and capacity of teachers, principals, and other district staff. It all began with the implementation of the TAP System for Teacher and Student Advancement in two of the district’s lowest-performing schools. Funded in part through a 2010 Teacher Incentive Fund Grant to the state, Ascension implemented TAP as a way of developing teacher leadership in a small cohort of instructional coaches, master teachers, and mentors, critical roles needed to implement the new rubric for measuring teacher practice and improvements to student learning. They also utilized TAP’s data management system that produced robust reports on improvements in teacher practice, allowing for data sharing between principals and the district office.

By “preaching and praising” the progress of the pioneer schools, the pilot grew from 2 to 4 and then from 4 to 8 and from 8 to 12 schools, where they continued to see positive results for both teachers and students. “Results built efficacy and efficacy built buy-in,” says Pujol. She took teachers and principals from across the district and even school board members, to visit the schools, to build demand and interest in the program. Before the TAP rubric was deployed district-wide, they began with the investment of an instructional coach in every school in the district. However, teachers and principals quickly realized that this coach could not be nearly as successful as those they’d seen in the TAP schools, in part because the coaches lacked a concrete tool to guide their work supporting teacher practice. Demand for the TAP rubric had been created, along with greater demand for other teacher leadership and support roles within schools.

To pay for the investments necessary to implement her human capital vision, Pujol spent significant time with her staff and all the people on her team that managed any part of the federal program dollars, as well as those most in charge of implementing programs that supported teachers and principals. To them she said, “Here’s our human capital management system and here’s how we want to support teachers to support student learning. What dollars do we have on the table and how can we use them to support this plan?” She and her team analyzed how their dollars were currently being spent and used the data to engage with stakeholders to show that some of the programs and strategies the district had long-pursued weren’t getting the return on investment—results for kids—that the district would hope and expect to see. With some creativity on the part of her staff, and buy-in from the school board and other stakeholders, they were able to identify diverse sources of local and federal dollars to expand TAP and to use the TAP Teaching Standards Instructional Rubric district-wide.

As teachers began to see their practice improve, they were able to make the connection between the positive data trends in their performance against the TAP rubric and improved student learning. “To lead change like this, you have to find short-term wins,” says Pujol. “And just as important is having ways to track what’s happening with kids and how the tools and supports you’re providing are or aren’t working.” To her, what began as a teacher leadership strategy developed into a broader human capital management system throughout the district. It became clear that additional supports were necessary to enable principals and other district staff to develop critical skills and tools; this support would drive implementation of the system and guide the important professional learning conversations teachers were now having with one another and their colleagues. By connecting adult behavior with improved student outcomes, they were able to establish a culture of collaboration and desire to improve individual practice to further improve student outcomes. Pujol says she heard teachers asking themselves the question, “How can I improve my practice, to improve student outcomes?”

None of this came easy, according to Pujol. To lead change like this takes a “steel will and commitment to making the change happen no matter what, and not allowing anything to stop you.” Following Kotter’s 8-step process for leading change, and grounded in the belief that the only measure that truly mattered was improved student achievement, Pujol led Ascension Parish Public Schools to marked improvement: between the 2010-2011 and 2013-14 school years, Ascension went from having 8 D and F schools to having no F schools and only 3 D schools. The trend has continued, and now there are only 5 C and D schools. They also saw improvement in their higher-performing schools and increased the number of A schools in the district from 6 to 16. Pujol, for her leadership, was named the 2015 Louisiana State Superintendent of the Year and was one of four finalists for the 2015 National Superintendent of the Year.

When reflecting on her challenges and successes while leading Ascension Public Schools, Pujol, now serving as President of NIET, The National Institute for Excellence in Teaching, will be the first to tell you that it wasn’t always easy, and that there were myriad challenges to implementing this kind of significant change. While she had built a strong guiding coalition, she says that given the opportunity to do it again, she would have spent more time, sooner, developing the capacity of more of her colleagues at the district-level; she believes this could have helped secure greater buy-in earlier on. “It’s really important that everyone sees their role in this work, and everyone needs to feel like they own and are a part of it.”

She points out that getting buy-in from some of her higher-performing schools was initially quite difficult, too. At one point, to create a sense of urgency, she brought back student work from a public school in Harlem, where most students were from low-income backgrounds, but where she had seen students demonstrate particularly strong writing skills. In fact, the Harlem students’ writing was stronger and required them to respond to more sophisticated prompts than the students in some of her high performing schools. She showed some of the students’ outstanding writing to teachers in her higher-performing schools, where most of their students were affluent, to demonstrate that there’s always room for growth and improvement in student learning and outcomes.

New website highlights progress in early STEM education

New website highlights progress in early STEM education
Russell D. Shilling, Ph.D.
Executive Director of STEM


This has been an eventful year for exploring the possibilities of creating lifelong interest in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM), starting with our youngest learners. We have been truly amazed and gratified at the enthusiasm and devotion from inside and outside the education community to nurture the natural curiosity of young children by engaging them in STEM as part of a well-rounded education.

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U.S. Department of Education Awards Grants to Help Public Charter Schools Obtain Facilities

The U.S. Department of Education (the Department) announced two grants totaling $16 million to help public charter schools obtain facilities under the Credit Enhancement for Charter Schools Facilities (Credit Enhancement) Program.

The Department awarded an $8 million grant to the National Charter School Lending Collaborative (a consortium led by the Low Income Investment Fund, and including Capital Impact Partners , IFF and The Reinvestment Fund) to support new high-quality educational opportunities for students from low-income families in under-performing school districts nationally. The Community Loan Fund of New Jersey is also receiving an $8 million grant, to diversify their provision of loan and lease guarantees for the development, expansion, and improvement of charter school facilities, with an emphasis on disadvantaged districts in New Jersey. To date, the Department’s Credit Enhancement program has awarded 38 grants totaling $297 million, which has been leveraged to secure nearly $4 billion in total financing for 566 charter school facilities.

The Credit Enhancement program enables public charter schools to obtain school facilities by assisting them in securing private-sector and other non-Federal capital, and targets its funds to schools focused on high-needs students. Through innovative credit enhancement mechanisms, grantees leverage a relatively small amount of Federal funds to access much greater funding for charter school facilities.

“Our Federal Credit Enhancement grant funding has, without question, been a critical driver in our ability to leverage private sector investment in communities most in need of high quality public education options,” said Michelle Liberati, Executive Vice President of the Charter Schools Development Corporation (CSDC), a Credit Enhancement grantee. “Prior to receiving our first grant, CSDC had a difficult time identifying conventional sources of financing for our school projects. Fast forward a decade, CSDC has received four grant awards which directly enabled us to establish partnerships with over three dozen banks, community development financial institutions and philanthropies to develop and finance facilities that serve over 50,000 students nationally.”

Grant funds help public charter schools construct and renovate school facilities, guarantee and insure leases for property, and identify potential lending sources for charter school facilities. To learn more about this program, please visit the Credit Enhancement web page.

Effective Educators for All: OII Announces 2016 Competitions to Strengthen Teacher Preparation and Leadership

In recent weeks, the Office of Innovation and Improvement announced two grant competitions – the Teacher Quality Partnership Program (TQP) and the Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF) – to ensure that all students have access to great teachers who can help them succeed.

TQP builds strong partnerships between high-need schools and teacher preparation institutions (e.g., colleges and universities) to prepare and support effective educators, either as an extension of an undergraduate degree program or using a “residency” model to give candidates real-world experience and practice as they prepare to become outstanding educators. Since 2009, TQP has partnered with 64 grantees, representing an investment of over $545 million. The FY16 TQP grant competition will fund up to 5 grantees with an estimated $5 million, and includes a focus on serving students in rural school districts as well as students from federally recognized Indian tribes, continuing the Department’s commitment to these communities.

“We don’t just want educators to be part of the necessary change—we need them to lead it.”

Secretary of Education John King

In addition to improving how we educate teachers to excel in the classroom, it is critically important that school districts have structures and policies in place to support, develop and retain excellent educators, especially in their highest-need classrooms. As in any other profession, teachers and principals need ongoing feedback and opportunities to develop throughout their career. TIF supports districts to do just that, as they implement performance-based compensation as part of an overall human capital management system to improve the quality of their educators and the academic outcomes of students. Through TIF, districts like Denver Public Schools have supported teacher leadership and development opportunities by creating differentiated roles. The FY16 grant competition will build on a portfolio of 97 grants, representing nearly $2 billion in funding to states, districts and nonprofits, by awarding up to $70 million to up to 10 grantees to attract, develop and retain excellent educators. This year’s competition includes a focus on serving rural school districts, as well as a focus on promoting equitable access to effective educators.

Visit the programs’ websites to learn more about the
TQP and TIF grant competitions, including application materials.