Region 16 initiates innovative grant program

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PROSPECT — Teachers in Region 16 will have a new revenue stream to dip into this coming school year to fund innovative projects to enhance student learning.

At its Aug. 15 meeting, the Board of Education approved earmarking $10,000 in the budget to pay for an innovative grant initiative. Under the initiative, teachers will have the opportunity to apply for innovative teaching grants to fund projects that support instructional activities that fall outside of the current curriculum.

“It’s not intended to fund projects or ideas that are already included in the curriculum,” said Superintendent of Schools Tim James, who presented the plan to the board. “These [grants] are intended to support new, exciting, and innovative instructional strategies and resources.”

James said he’s run similar initiatives in school districts prior to coming to Region 16. In one district, he said, more than 75 percent of the teachers applied for the grants.

“It really became a way for them to take on their pet projects,” James said.

Teachers will be able to apply for up to $650 under the program. In the application, teachers must give a description of the project, how it will improve student learning, and a detailed break down of the project’s budget.

The projects aren’t limited to individual classes or schools, but can bridge grade levels and schools and groups of teachers can apply together.

“The possibilities are really endless,” James said.

As part of the program, all teachers who receive grants will be required to give a presentation about their project during the following school year’s welcome back breakfast.

The funding for the $10,000 will come out of anticipated savings in the certified salary account in the budget.

James explained several veteran teachers unexpectedly resigned this summer and their positions were filled with younger teachers at lower salaries. The excess funds and an insurance refund will go to pay for the program, he said.

The board unanimously embraced the program.

“I think it’s a great idea,” said Vice Chair Donna Cullen, who only asked that the approved projects come before the board for review.

James said he will accommodate her request.

The essence of the program is similar to education foundations in school districts throughout the state that raise money to fund projects not covered in school budgets.

In April, the Naugatuck Education Foundation awarded its first-ever grants, five $500 grants, to borough teachers to fund projects such as “Harvesting Success,” a program to start a vegetable garden at Cross Street Intermediate School in Naugatuck.

Region 16 board member Robert Hiscox, a former teacher at Newington High School, said the Newington school district ran a comparable program in which a fund was set up to pay for projects. As the program grew, Hiscox said, the community and teachers donated to the fund. It became teachers helping teachers, helping the district, he recalled.

“This may grow into something like that,” Hiscox said.

Applications for grants under the initiative will be available to teachers on Sept. 10 and must be submitted by Oct. 6. A team of four administrators will review and select the proposals to be funded. Grant recipients will be notified by Oct. 10.