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$1.95 Million Federal Grant Award for Downcounty Consortium

July 9, 2002
The U.S. Department of Education is set to award a three-year federal grant of $1.95 million to help establish the Downcounty Consortium for the Montgomery Blair, Albert Einstein, John F. Kennedy, and Wheaton clusters, according to an announcement today [Tuesday, July 9] by Congresswoman Connie Morella.

This evening the Board of Education and the County Council Education Committee are jointly sponsoring a community information meeting on the Downcounty Consortium at the Albert Einstein High School auditorium, beginning at 7:00 p.m.

The federal grant provides $1.95 million over three years, beginning this fall, toward the implementation of the consortium initiatives, specifically the effort to create smaller learning communities in the participating high schools. This fall, the high schools will begin offering ninth grade academies and freshman learning communities designed to improve the educational experiences of first-time high school students.

By September 2004, the consortium will provide students entering the high schools (coinciding with the reopening of Northwood High School) with the option to enroll in an academic or career program within one of the five schools.

In light of Congresswoman Morella’s announcement today, Dr. Jerry D. Weast, superintendent of schools, also noted in a report to the Board of Education yesterday that the consortium is “an important extension of the ongoing initiatives undertaken by the Board of Education to improve the academic achievement in areas of Montgomery County most heavily impacted by poverty and related challenges.”

The consortium has already secured $1.4 million in county funding for Fiscal Year 2003 with the support of the members of the County Council, particularly Council President Steven Silverman and Education Committee Chairman Michael Subin, and County Executive Douglas M. Duncan.

"The consortium is the logical next phase of the initiatives already under way in targeted attendance areas that include the highest concentrations of poverty in the county,” Dr. Weast said.

These efforts include the expansion of full-day kindergarten and the reduction of class sizes in kindergarten to 15:1 and to 17:1 in Grades 1 and 2 in 56 elementary schools, along with strengthening the kindergarten curriculum, extending those curricular reforms into the other elementary grades, and significantly enhancing the instructional skills of the elementary school teachers and principals. The opening this summer of extended learning opportunities through the Summer Adventures in Learning program for 18 Title I schools (which begins next week on July 15) is another example of how the challenges being faced by the students of these schools are being addressed through targeted initiatives.

In addition, the establishment this summer of cross-functional teams for early childhood education, special education, ESOL, shared accountability, organization, extended time, professional development, curriculum/instruction/assessment, parent involvement, technology, and human resources also is designed to ensure that schools in the targeted areas receive the necessary support and guidance to continue their critically important school improvement efforts.

Moreover, in addition to the reopening of Northwood High School, the school system is opening Newport Mill Middle School this fall and planning to reopen the former Connecticut Park Elementary School facility and the former Belt Junior School High facility to relieve overcrowding and provide additional instructional opportunities for students.

“The award of the nearly $2 million in additional federal funding recognizes the importance of this comprehensive effort and its potential impact on the national educational agenda as a model for continued school improvement,” Dr. Weast said.

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