D.C. school officials are making $10 million available for principals looking to boost students' test scores through nontraditional means, such as extending the school day.
The "Proving What's Possible" grants provide up to $400,000 for schools that need to make dramatic strides in overall student performance. Alternatively, principals can apply for up to $100,000 to focus on a subgroup, such as English language learners or students from low-income families.
"In order to achieve the ambitious goals we've outlined for our schools, we need to do more," said Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson. "Innovation and continuous improvement are essential to growth in any industry, and education is no different."
Proposals are due May 17, with the winners to be announced by June 1.
"There are no limits," D.C. Public Schools spokeswoman Melissa Salmanowitz said of the extent to which individual schools can toy with the school day. DCPS is encouraging principals to include innovations long enjoyed by charter schools: Longer school days and reshuffling of staff are both on the table.
The announcement follows a thrifty fiscal 2013 budget proposal that would increase class sizes, cut many librarian positions and terminate more than 200 special education coordinators.
One longtime psychologist, unhappy to take on the coordinators' responsibilities, said she was perplexed by the available grant money.
"I don't understand how they can cut positions one week and throw all this money at the schools the next week," said the psychologist, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of losing her job. "It's upsetting, and disheartening."
Salmanowitz said the $10 million was available because central office "absorbed the reductions," but declined to specify which programs had been discontinued.
DC School Reform Now Executive Director David Pickens said he believed it was the chancellor's prerogative to decide where resources will best serve kids. "It's a main function of a chancellor to have a vision and allocate accordingly, and I think this is right in line with everything the District should be," he said.
What these priorities reflect, Pickens said, is an interest in adopting charter school tactics to improve the traditional school system.
"The charter network has been very good about being innovative, and I think, wisely, DCPS is using this as a way to be more competitive," Pickens said.
Atasha James, principal of Southeast's M.C. Terrell/McGogney Elementary School, said she will "absolutely" apply for a whole-school grant, and is exploring the extension of the school year through a summer program for rising third-graders.
"That's the most exciting part for me, that it pushes me and says, 'OK, what can we really do if money isn't an issue?' " James said. "For me, this is like Christmas."