In her first year as principal of Medora Community School Corp., Austin Absher hopes to be able to transform the learning environment.
She recently announced she is applying for a school improvement grant through the Indiana Department of Education called 1003(g). This is a transformational model grant that officials hope will transform the future of the elementary and junior-senior high schools.
One grant is for $1 million for the elementary, and the other grant is for $1 million for the junior-senior high school. School trustees unanimously gave support for Absher writing both of the competitive grants.
The grants would allow the corporation to add course offerings for students and provide professional development for teachers.
The ultimate goal is to attract more students to the school. An increase in enrollment will prevent the second-smallest public school corporation in the state from having to close.
“It could be huge for the school, even if we were to get one of those,” Absher said. “We’re not guaranteed one. We’re definitely not guaranteed both, but if we could get just one of those, it would truly transform this entire school, which would be pretty amazing.”
The grant applications are due Aug. 30, and winners are expected to be announced by Sept. 30. Absher said 16 grants will be awarded statewide. The money would be spread over five years.
With the hiring of new staff, including herself, Absher said the corporation fits well into the transformational model grant.
“If we were to get one or both grants, they would be pretty much released immediately, and we would be able to start implementing that plan that’s in our grant,” she said.
In the grant application, state officials will be looking to ensure all of the areas underneath their transformation rubric are being met.
“They want to see that we’re going to increase learning time at the end of the school day,” Absher said. “They want to see what we’re using the first year of getting that grant as implementing our plan. They want to see redesign of leadership structure in the building, which is one of the big reasons we’re applying this year is because it is new leadership. And use of a teacher evaluation system, which luckily, we already have that new evaluation system in place.”
With the junior-senior high school, Absher said one big goal is to bring in Project Lead the Way. Through pathways in computer science, engineering and biomedical sciences, students learn problem-solving strategies, critical and creative thinking and how to communicate and collaborate, according to the nonprofit organization’s website, pltw.org.
“That’s one of the things that we really (considered) when we applied for this junior-senior high grant is how can we attract kids to Medora, what can we offer that other schools around us aren’t?” Absher said. “Project Lead the Way seems like it might be a really good incentive for kids to come here.”
The junior-senior high school plan also involves bringing in additional staff, in particular people who are going to help out with curriculum development.
School officials also want to continue to fund a parent outreach coordinator.
“That has been a really great asset to us being able to have someone that reaches out to the parents and community,” Absher said.
Providing professional development opportunities for teachers to help them grow and feel more comfortable within their roles and starting professional learning communities within the teachers during collaboration sessions on Wednesday nights also are a part of the junior-senior high school plan.
Professional development is a part of the elementary plan, too. That includes implementing resources, such as instructional coaches.
“Just really doing everything we can to boost student achievement because that’s the ultimate goal of the grant is making sure that our students are not only achieving, but that they are are growing,” Absher said.