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LEXINGTON, Ky. (Jan. 23, 2014) — The U.S. Department of Education has awarded $30 million to 17 eastern Kentucky school districts to implement a plan involving a strong collaboration with the University of Kentucky College of Education.

The grant – part of “Race to the Top” funding for which school districts may apply – will enable a unique partnership between the UK College of Education and districts in the Kentucky Valley Educational Cooperative (KVEC). More than 200 applications were received in this year’s round and KVEC is one of five grant winners selected from 31 finalists, representing 80 school districts across 21 states.

The funding will support work to tailor education for all students and provide school leaders and teachers with key tools that support them in meeting students’ needs. For UK’s part, the College of Education will work alongside district leaders and teachers to provide support, leadership and professional learning communities on issues that help schools meet the unique needs of 21st century learners.

The plan involves about 100 principals and district level staff participating in the College of Education’s Next Generation Leadership Academy each year over the course of the next four years. Additionally, 100 teachers will participate annually in the Next Generation Teacher Leader Academy. The academies are yearlong professional learning endeavors focused on the critical attributes of Next Generation Learning, developed by the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). The attributes guide the work of the academies as a set of design principles for systematic change.

“An ongoing concern exists that schools in the United States are not adequately preparing our students to succeed in an increasingly diverse, globalized and technology-rich world,” said UK College of Education Dean Mary John O’Hair. “Since the time schools were originally designed, we now have a deepened understanding of the process of learning, greater knowledge of sociocultural factors in learning, and we simply recognize that the world has changed. Still, schools largely operate by the same designs that existed in the Industrial Age. Far too long, education leaders from all levels have worked in silos to tweak learning systems for 21st century students and it has produced only limited results. To accomplish the goal of college and career readiness for all students, radically different learning experiences and environments must be created and new systems of support for learners must be delivered.”

The Leadership Academy, derived from the college’s Kentucky P20 Innovation Lab, began its first cohort in 2011-2012 with 60 leaders consisting of superintendents, principals and central office teams representing all regions of the state. University faculty, regional university partners and state and national leaders worked together to design and build new systems for learning. Now in Cohort 3, more than 238 leaders representing 30 school districts have participated in the Leadership Academy.

The professional learning for KVEC districts will begin with an intensive summer experience, culminating in planning for changes in the upcoming years. A robust social network will provide online and classroom follow-up and mentoring for participants (peer and expert). Participants will use shared e-portfolio abstracts and artifacts to request feedback and guidance from university faculty and national experts.

The UK College of Education will take part in the KVEC “Race to the Top” grant in additional ways:
The UK College of Education facilitates Kentucky STEMx with stakeholders across the Commonwealth. The districts associated with the grant have been identified as a STEMx “hub.” This will support communities to accelerate student success in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) alignment with local economic development and to spread promising practices.

UK College of Education assistant professor Gerry Swan specializes in development of the Open Source Tools for Instructional Support (OTIS). Use of this approach will enable the districts to create performance matrices for individuals, departments, schools or an entire district.