If you want to secure grant money for your school, the first step is to understand in detail the problems your school faces. Once you have clearly identified those hurdles to student achievement or school-wide success, the second step is to develop a plan/solution that has the greatest likelihood of achieving your goals.
When I first became a middle school principal, our test scores indicated that we had a reading problem. Overall, our students read about 1.5 grade levels below the national average. We already had a Title I reading program, but we weren’t getting very good results. We did our research and found that:
1) Although we had a serious school-wide reading problem, only our very poorest readers attended reading classes.
2) Although we knew that reading was a skill, we did not provide enough time during the school day for our students to practice that skill.
3) Monitoring large amounts of independent reading is difficult without enough computers and specialized software.
With that knowledge, we were able to put together a comprehensive plan in which
• all students, regardless of their reading levels, would attend a reading class.
• each student would spend one hour each day in reading practice on appropriate-level materials.
• we would use the STAR reading test to determine the beginning reading levels of students and to measure growth.
• we would use Accelerated Reader software to monitor students' daily reading.
In addition, we would initiate "structural" changes in order to meet the needs of our new program:
• In order to make time in the school day for students to receive an hour of reading practice, we had to change from a 7-period to an 8-period schedule.
• All of our teachers would become reading teachers in order to monitor 30 minutes of reading practice time. The regular reading teachers monitored the other 30 minutes and taught mini-lessons on skills.
• We had to purchase STAR and Accelerated Reader.
• We had to purchase thousands of library books to match the reading levels, interests, and reading volume of our students.
• We had to purchase dozens of computers to monitor the program.
We developed a special budget in order to put our plan into place. While our solution was relatively expensive, we did not consider costs when we developed the plan. We only considered the results we would likely achieve. To get the money we needed to fund our plan, we tapped into the regular budget, Title I, and special education funds. But that wasn’t enough. We wrote grants, and we entered into a partnership with the software company to do detailed research as we measured our students’ reading growth.
When your school faces a hurdle to student achievement, the key is to build a plan that directly addresses the problem and has the greatest likelihood of success. When you are developing your plan, don’t worry about costs. That will come later. If you can, find schools with similar demographics that have faced similar problems and made major improvements. Duplicate the best parts of their plans if it’s feasible for you to do so -- without consideration to money.
When your plan is complete -- and you’re sure it is comprehensive and has an excellent chance of success -- then comes the time to start worrying about the budget and finding the money to fund your program. Which brings us to the topic we will cover in my next blog: finding grant money to fund your program.
Don Peek is an expert in school funding. He has run The School Funding Center since 2001. Its database contains over 100,000 grants available to all types of schools in the United States. Don worked in education for 20 years as a teacher, principal, and assistant superintendent before becoming the VP then the president of the training division of Renaissance Learning, developer of the Accelerated Reader.