Aug 21, 2017

BATON ROUGE, La.- The Louisiana Department of Education today launched the first of a two-part, multi-million dollar competitive School Redesign Grant application process intended to support school systems as they build and execute plans to improve their persistently struggling schools. Under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the Department is required to identify a list of these struggling schools and award set-aside dollars to school systems that have strong, evidence-based plans for improvement.

"ESSA creates an opportunity for us to ask new questions about what we want for our kids. Chief among them: What do we do in a school that continually ranks at the bottom? A school that fails to improve over time?" said State Superintendent John White. "The newly announced School Redesign Grant provides an opportunity for school systems to answer those questions in a way that fits their unique needs."

Louisiana's ESSA plan, which recently earned approval by the U.S. Department of Education, defines persistently struggling schools, in part, as schools that have earned a school performance rating of D or F-the two lowest grades in the accountability system-for three consecutive years. Currently, 225 schools-17 percent of all schools in Louisiana-fit this definition.

Each school system with a persistently struggling school is required to develop a detailed improvement plan, supported by research, for each of its eligible sites. The full grant application will serve as that plan, and every school system must submit an application in one of two grant cycles in the 2017-2018 school year. Applications for the first cycle, which are now available, will be due September 29, 2017, and applications for the second cycle, which will be released in early 2018, will be due in March 2018. Districts not wishing to participate in the first round should participate in the second round.

Following the application deadline for each cycle, the state will review plans, and school systems with the strongest plans will receive competitive grants. The grants will last three years and be funded, as required by ESSA, through a 7 percent set-aside of the state's Title I allowance, which exists to better academic achievement among disadvantaged students. The individual awards will vary in amount, depending on the scope of the recipient's strategy, but will total about $20 million each year. 

School systems are encouraged to engage highly-qualified external partners to support them in conducting needs assessments, developing strong improvement plans, and implementing their plans. The Department created a comprehensive inventory of these partners, and in January 2017, hosted a first-of-its-kind School Redesign Summit to connect them with school system leaders. Following the Summit, about $1.3 million worth of planning grants, valued between $10,000 and $50,000 each, were awarded to 54 school systems interested in learning more about what potential partners could offer to their schools and students. 

Patrice Pujol, president of the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching (NIET) and former superintendent of Ascension Public Schools, has been part of the state's school redesign process from the start. NIET attended the School Redesign Summit, she said, and is now working with various school systems on tailored improvement plans.

"School reform is not one-size-fits-all," Pujol said. "But one factor remains true across the board: The quality of the classroom teacher is key to student success. For that reason, NIET's model for change provides the highest level of support, feedback and professional growth to teachers and school leaders as they work to improve their practices and positively influence student achievement."

She continued, "NIET has a proven track record of success partnering with Louisiana districts and schools, to date, and we look forward to continuing this work, to supporting education leaders, to improving student outcomes and to elevating education statewide, for all students." 

For more information about School Redesign, click here.

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