"Racing" for change in Waterloo schools - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

"Racing" for change in Waterloo schools

WATERLOO (KWWL) -- Iowa's Department of Education is listing five Waterloo schools among the 35 lowest-achieving in the state. The designation is part of Iowa's application for millions of dollars in federal money.

The state is not actually announcing the names of the schools until next month, but Superintendent Dr. Gary Norris is planning to release the information Thursday. Norris confirmed with KWWL at least one is an elementary school.

Norris said, there is a silver lining to the news. Being on the bottom puts Waterloo in the running for major funding if Iowa is chosen to "Race to the Top." It's no surprise to Norris that Waterloo Community Schools need improvement.

"To do things the same way we've been doing things, and expect to see different results, is crazy thinking," Norris said.

But hearing that the district is home to 1/7 of the "persistently lowest-achieving schools" in the state is hard to hear.

Norris explained, "what they're saying to these five schools, and the district, is that you have to do things so drastically different it doesn't look like the things you've done before."

Drastically different might lead to millions of dollars in grant money. At Monday's School Board meeting, Waterloo school leaders signed a Memorandum of Understanding to join Iowa's application for "Race to the Top" funding. If the state is among those chosen for the grant program, there's a lot of money available for Waterloo to make an education overhaul.

"We've heard as high as a half million dollars per school, per year. That's enough to make radical changes," Norris said.

Norris pointed out, the district is already on the right track with the Strategic Plan implemented this year. And, with or without the grant, he's expecting to continue changing the way education works in Waterloo. But, educators and students need the entire community behind them to make this work.

The district launched a new feature on its Web page Wednesday. You can "Sign On" to commit your confidence in Waterloo students, and vow to help improve student achievement and safety in area schools.

"We're asking them to walk shoulder-to-shoulder with us like no other time in history," said Norris. "We're asking them to have a little faith in some of the changes we're making, and have a little trust that we've really researched these changes."

School districts in Iowa needed to commit to the "Race to the Top" application by Wednesday afternoon. In April, the federal government will announce which states are being chosen for funding in this round. If Iowa does not make the cut, the state can re-apply this summer.

Click here to "Sign On" for Waterloo Schools.

Online Reporter Colleen O'Shaughnessy

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