SNOW HILL — Worcester County Public Schools (WCPS) got a big and pleasant surprise this week when it was announced that the county will be the sole recipient of a $1 million-plus competitive grant for special education.
The 2014 Bridges for Systems Change grant will be used to buoy education for students with disabilities.
“The grant seeks to improve outcomes for children ages birth through 21 through the use of evidence-based and innovative practices to enhance student learning,” said Rae Record, supervisor of special education. “The goal is to eliminate the existing gap between students with disabilities and their non-disabled peers.”
The two-year grant will improve and expand a number of special education programs and will bring momentum to the county’s planned systems changes for disabled students. The new program framework will begin to be put in place this week and will be aided by the Maryland State Department of Education’s (MSDE) Division of Programmatic Support and Technical Assistance.
“The grant is extraordinary, said Division Chief Paul Dunford. “It was collaboratively constructed and is all about kids.”
WCPS and MSDE will be working hand-in-hand on applying the grant. The goal is to raise the county up as a model for the rest of the state in terms of cooperation and a special education program that aggressively targets the achievement gap between disabled and non-disabled students.
“The model for system change that will be created here is a true collaboration using the three E’s: Efficiency, Excellence and Equity,” said Marcella Franczkowski, assistant state superintendent of the Division of Special Education and Early Intervention Services.
The potential for the grant is high and WCPS is excited about how special education programs can grow with a $1 million shot to the arm. Adding to the excitement is the fact that the grant is coming out of left field.
“It’s quite big. It feels very surreal right now,” said Record.
The surprise announcement was made Tuesday morning while Franczkowski and other MSDE representatives were visiting Pocomoke High School. They were on site to provide professional development for county special education personnel when Franczkowski revealed that WCPS would receive the full $1 million.
While the announcement was a bombshell, the county did pay its due diligence when applying for the grant. Record recognized the work of the grant writing team led by Jennifer Dale, coordinator of instruction for special education. That team spent a large part of the summer working to make Worcester an appealing landing zone for Bridges for Systems Change.
“The effort to secure this grant is a great testament to the internal leadership of Special Education and their work around strategic planning and the alignment to our vision for the academic success of all students,” said Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jerry Wilson. “This effort also reflects the drive of our school system to be leaders in innovation with excellence. We are immensely proud that a committee of educators sought this grant. Their commitment and hard-work will greatly benefit the children of Worcester County.”
Dale spread the credit around to the large number of stakeholders who participated in writing the grant. This group included parents, special and general education teachers and administrators. It was a lengthy process of research and data gathering, projecting a budget and a coming up with a plan moving forward that would appeal strongly enough to MSDE to attract a massive sum of money.
This is the largest two-year grant that the county has ever received.