Gateway School District has received a grant to help address a need among its students.
The Heinz Endowments awarded the district $82,000 to support programming and professional development toward closing and eventually eliminating a racial achievement gap.
Gateway Superintendent Nina Zetty said the district has experienced a significant difference between the performances of white and black students on Pennsylvania System of School Assessment tests.
“We started to look at research to find out what strategies need to be implemented to close that gap,” she explained.
The bulk of the grant money will go toward staff training, with some earmarked for afterschool and summer programs to provide students with continuity in learning.
Ms. Zetty said the efforts focus at first on a “small pilot group at the K-4 level,” along with a smaller-scale mentoring program for older students.
“We’re reaching out to successful black males in the community who are looking to mentor black males in our high school,” she said.
In preparing for writing the grant applications, district staff members met with representatives from the black community about the gap and possible measures to address it.
“We really had heart-to-hearts about what the issues were,” said Nancy Hines, Gateway director of curriculum, instruction and assessment.
Administrators then met with Heinz Endowments staff members to arrive at the basis for applying.
"Gateway looked specifically at African-American students’ achievements, in addition to school climate and discipline,” said Melanie Brown, program officer for the endowments’ education program. “We thought it was a good opportunity.”
The organization awards between $60 million to $70 million each year to initiatives in southwestern Pennsylvania.
“We are so appreciative of the financial support,” Ms. Zetty said. “We really needed the money to get started with the professional development piece.”
The goal eventually is to have a wider-scale program funded through the school district’s budget, she explained.
Propel Schools, which operates a charter school at Gateway’s former Pitcairn Elementary building, received a Heinz Endowments grant last year to participate in an initiative to address perennially underperforming schools. During the summer, Gateway staff members worked with Carol Wooten, Propel co-founder superintendent-CEO for its first 10 years, about applying the concepts to the school district.
“She has done a great deal of work in the area,” said Ms. Zetty. “We reached out to her for guidance in professional development.”
The PSSA, which measures proficiency in reading and mathematics, was administered to Pennsylvania students in third through eighth and 11th grades. A new test, the Keystone Exam, replaced the PSSA for high school juniors in 2013.
Students are identified in the PSSA as performing at advanced, proficient, basic and below basic levels. To illustrate an example of the gap among Gateway students:
PSSA results from 2011-12 indicate that 3.3 percent of white third-graders performed at below basic in mathematics, compared with 11.3 percent of black students in the same grade. Among 11th-graders, 13.1 percent of white students were below basic, and black students, 30.4 percent.
Harry Funk, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.