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Gettin’ SIGgy With It

March 9, 2014


On Friday, the Oklahoma State Department of Education had a webinar for schools wishing to participate in this year’s School Improvement Grant competition. In case you don’t know much about the SIG program, here’s an overview from the SDE website:

The Oklahoma State Department of Education has been granted the opportunity to award $4.9 million dollars in School Improvement Grant (SIG) funds from the United States Department of Education. This is a competitive grant which requires that schools that are selected to receive the grant and implement one of four intervention models. Districts that contain Priority schools qualify to apply.

SIG Information

  • SIG is a competitive grant meaning an application must be submitted and approved prior to funding being awarded.
  • The Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE) applied to the United States Department of Education (USDE) for SIG funding for a fourth cohort in November 2013.
  • Only LEAs that are eligible based on the Priority Schools list may apply for funds.
  • Currently there are 6 active SIG sites for school year 2013-2014.

If awarded, each SIG site would choose a Turnaround Model to implement:

  • Restart Model – LEA closes a school and reopens it with a different operating structure (e.g., charter).
  • Closure Model – LEA closes the school and enrolls the student in other higher achieving schools within the LEA.
  • Transformation Model – LEA and school use funds to implement a required list of initiatives.
  • Turnaround Model – LEA and school use the SIG funds to implement a required list of initiatives.

The list of Priority Schools shows about 160 schools eligible for this competition. In the past three competitions, the SDE has awarded a total of 16 grants. All but one chose the Transformation Model (because we always tell people to pick C); the other chose the Turnaround Model. (By the way, it’s strange that one of the choices of turnaround models is actually called the Turnaround Model.)

US Grant High School in Oklahoma City was the one choosing the Turnaround Model. I’ve lost track of how many stories have been written about their success. The narrative usually focuses on how hard the teachers and parents worked to make student success important at Grant. Sometimes the stories also mention the $5 million the school received from the USDE and how the school spent that money. Among these were:

  • Protected collaboration time for teachers
  • Extra professional development days
  • Longer instructional days

It takes a lot of commitment, hard work, and money to turn a school around. It also takes planning. That’s why the following timeline concerns me a little.

Eligible schools received the application packet Tuesday, February 25. Schools wanting to apply had to submit a letter of intent by Tuesday, March 4. Meanwhile, many districts had snow days March 3-4. In essence, schools had less than a week to make a decision.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise any longer when the SDE makes things harder for schools than they have to be. And to be fair, this is a letter of intent, not the actual application. Since we know that very few eligible schools will get a SIG grant, and we have seen the impact such an infusion of funding can have, it’s more than a little frustrating to those interested in applying that the SDE once again can’t get out of its own way or that of the schools.

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