Merced -- The Merced Union High School District is one of the few San Joaquin Valley school systems that will apply for $10 million to $20 million in federal Race to the Top grants to improve its instructional programs.
"This would give us a shot in the arm to move us forward," said Kelly Bentz, the high school district's program administrator for child welfare, attendance and safety. "In a nutshell, it is preparing children for college and career."
Bentz said the 70-page grant application will be mailed to the U.S. Department of Education in Washington, D.C., in late October. Award recipients will be notified by the end of December.
"It still is a long shot," Superintendent Scott Scambray said. "It is a tremendous opportunity to find some more resources. There are not many in the San Joaquin Valley who are doing this."
There are five key components to Race to the Top grants. They include implementing national common-core instructional standards, collecting research data on educational improvement, supporting intervention programs to reduce student failures, partnering with community agencies, and building an evaluation system for teachers, principals and administrators.
District officials said the Race to the Top program would provide personalized learning environments for students based on their needs and prepare them for a 21st century learning environment.
Bentz said $7 million of the $20 million would be used to give each of the district's 10,000 students a high-quality electronic device and heavy-duty carrying case.
She said instructional computers are very durable and are a good alternative to the thousands of dollars worth of textbooks lost to damage each year.
Many of the key Race to the Top components already are being undertaken by the district, particularly intervention programs which try to keep students from "falling through the cracks" and failing during their educational careers," Bentz said.
Through the grant, the district plans to partner with UC Merced, the Boys and Girls Clubs of Merced County and Atwater's Police Activities League to expand existing support services.
Tony Slaton, Boys and Girls Clubs executive director, said he is very excited about being a partner in the educational process.
"There are lots of possibilities," Slaton said. "Our part would be to increase areas of mentoring and matching students with various needs. Potentially there is a lot of good that could come out of this."
The Boys and Girls Clubs have been a partner with the district for four years in Summer Bridge Academy programs in English and mathematics, Slaton said.
Joe Hoffar, PAL executive director, said this is early in the planning stage for the Race to the Top grant.
But he envisions combining resources with the Boys and Girls Clubs to provide enrichment activities, field trips, leadership development and physical conditioning activities such as its boxing program.
Mayors and city managers in Merced, Atwater and Livingston must sign off on the Race to the Top programs. Representatives of these cities have been highly enthusiastic about the program, Bentz said.
She said input is needed from students and parents.
Principals will be contacting parents to take part in brief telephone or online surveys through the district's Web site. Parent input gleaned during periodic accreditation visits by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges also will be used.
State Sen. Anthony Cannella, R-Ceres, said he wholeheartedly supports the district's effort to secure the grant.
"They have been making great strides in preparing their students for what lies ahead," Cannella said. "If they were able to fund the programs described in the application, their students will leave high school more well-rounded.
"As a father of four, I understand how children benefit from participating in arts, science and sports programs at their school. This would be fantastic for the students of Merced."
Reporter Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or firstname.lastname@example.org.