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November 26. 2012 10:33PM

Nashua schools in the running for federal grant

NASHUA - The school district has been chosen as one of 61 finalists for a Race to the Top-District grant, the U.S. Department of Education announced Monday, boosting Nashua's chances at receiving a piece of a $400 million pie.

"That's good news indeed," said Superintendent Mark Conrad at Monday night's school board meeting. "I'm very proud of the effort that went into that by all parties."

According to the DOE, the program is aimed at supporting locally developed plans to personalize and deepen student leaning, improving student achievement and educator effectiveness, closing achievement gaps and preparing students for success in college and careers.

The grant proposal is for a $27 million chunk of the Race to the Top Fund, a $4.35 billion education component of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

The district's proposal contains nine projects to be funded over four years. The first deals with management of the grant, proposing to fund a grant manager position at nearly $90,000 a year, in addition to a secretary and a team of teachers funded through stipends.

Of the grant, $3.6 million would go toward developing a standards-driven curriculum, with the hiring of 20 specialized teachers. Furthering the integration of technology into the city's classrooms, the proposal budgeted $8.7 million to plan for a new era of Internet usage in school. Wireless upgrades would be carried out at both high schools, and 3,5000 portable devices would be purchased to support a 3:1 student-device ratio. Devices could include laptops, netbooks or tablets. Five hundred computers would also be replaced.

Board of Education Chairman Robert Hallowell lauded the district for its work. "There are over 900 districts that issued their intention to (apply) and in the end only 231 actually put in the grant."

Hallowell noted that about two-thirds of the districts that applied backed out before completing their applications.

"I thank the union for agreeing to go along," he added. "Change is not always an easy thing."

The 61 finalists represent more than 200 districts that were selected from 372 applications. Nashua is the only New Hampshire district in the state in the group of finalists - and one of four New England schools - in league with the Boston Public Schools and two urban districts in Connecticut.

The finalists were chosen from a mix of urban and non-urban schools, and picked by three-member panels that scored each application.

"These finalists are setting the curve for the rest of the country with innovative plans to drive education reform in the classroom," said Arne Duncan, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education.

The DOE will select between 15 and 25 districts in the competition, for four-year awards ranging from $5 million to $40 million.

At Monday night's meeting the board also approved a $12,000 Special Olympics grant for the district to participate in a Unified Sport Program for three years.

Board member Dennis Ryder, who chairs the finance and operations committee, emphasized that the grant is for only three years. "There's no guarantee it will continue past that time, and we may be stuck with having this cost on the budget if we wish to continue it."

The auditorium at Elm Street Middle School - one of the largest in the state and the home of SymphonyNH - was renamed at Monday's meeting, changed from the Edmund M. Keefe Auditorium to the Edmund M. Keefe Center for the Arts.

The policy surrounding use of the auditorium, which prioritizes the needs of the schools over those of the arts community, will stay in place.

srios@newstote.com

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