Tacoma school district seeks new federal school funds

Just a year after one experiment in federal funding for low-performing schools ended in Tacoma, another might soon begin.

Tacoma Public Schools on Friday applied for an estimated $5.5 million in federal School Improvement Grant money to boost achievement at two schools added to the state’s watch list this year: First Creek Middle School and Roosevelt Elementary School.

That’s about half the amount the district secured for its last round of SIG reforms at three schools.

If approved, the grants would pay for added teacher training and student services aimed at helping nurture students and boost test scores at the two high-poverty schools on the city’s East Side.

Over three years, roughly $3 million would go to First Creek, with the remainder headed to Roosevelt, district officials said. Their hope is that changes at the elementary school would benefit the middle school down the road, because many Roosevelt students move on to First Creek.

Among the proposed changes federal dollars would finance:

 • Increased teacher training in math, literacy and other fields, both during the school year and over the summer.

 • Conversational Spanish lessons for Roosevelt teachers, and a full-time translator at First Creek. Both schools have sizeable Hispanic populations: nearly 24 percent at Roosevelt and nearly 32 percent at First Creek.

 • Mental-health counseling for First Creek, aimed at making such services easier for families to access.

 • New after-school enrichment and after-school academic intervention programs for Roosevelt kids.

 • Monthly “parent academy” meetings at Roosevelt, designed to give moms and dads ideas on how they can help their kids succeed in school.

 • Added administrators, including a second assistant principal and a dean at First Creek. The assistant principal would support the school’s co-principals in their work with teachers, while a dean would focus on student activities and student behavior issues. At Roosevelt, a dean of students would be added for the first year only.

 • Embedded, so-called “roving” teachers at First Creek who would be available to substitute for teachers who are in training. Tacoma, like many school districts around the state, has been coping with a shortage of substitute teachers. The “rovers” would help address that problem at First Creek, and they would have the familiarity that comes with being attached to one school.

Three years ago, an SIG grant of $11 million over three years paid for reforms at three Tacoma middle schools: Giaudrone, Jason Lee and Stewart. Those schools remain on the state’s list of the bottom-scoring 5 percent of Washington’s high-poverty schools.

Giaudrone and Jason Lee have shown gains, but Stewart has been singled out for more state-monitored interventions because of insignificant progress under the first round of SIG grants.

Ben Gauyan, Tacoma’s director of middle schools, said the district wants to apply lessons learned at those schools to First Creek and Roosevelt.

“We want a strong professional development model,” he said. “Because when the dollars go away, that is what sticks and that is what builds capacity.”

Statewide, this year’s round of SIG funding is significantly lower than three years ago. An estimated $24 million is expected to flow to Washington state over the next three years, beginning this fall.

There are 49 schools on the statewide SIG grant eligibility list this year. Grants will be announced in May.

Debbie Cafazzo: 253-597-8635

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