Race to the Top funds failed to build system for academic excellence

Six years ago, Escambia Superintendent Malcolm Thomas and his district leadership team committed to create a new system to foster academic excellence. They even got the federal government to fund the creation of the system.

Unfortunately, the system was never created, and the funds were placed in other projects.

In 2010, the U.S. Department of Education issued a Race To The Top grant of $8,373,647 to the Escambia County School District. The funds were disbursed over four years.

Gulf Power supported the Race To The Top program. In an editorial in the daily newspaper (News Journal, “Race to the Top? We’re ready,” 1/8/2010), then Gulf Power CEO Susan Story said that the grants would be awarded based on “setting aggressive performance goals for students, teachers and school administrators.” Half of the grant would be targeted toward low-income students.

According to its application, the 2010 Race To The Top grant was to set up two schools, Montclair Elementary and Warrington Middle, as the models to create a framework for an instructional improvement system for the entire district.

In 2010, Montclair Elementary was an “A” school. At Warrington Middle, the superintendent hired new leaders and a new teaching staff that were given extra compensation to teachers taking on the challenge. In 2010, Warrington Middle was a “C” school.

After six years and $8 million, Montclair Elementary has earned F’s the past two years. It’s one of only 66 F schools in the state. The school is tied with Earlington Heights Elementary in Dade County as the 10th lowest performing non-charter school in Florida.

Sadly, it’s not the worst elementary school in Escambia County. C.A. Weis, the district’s new community model school, is the fourth worst in the state.

Six years and $8 million later, Warrington Middle is a D school. It’s ranked the 14th lowest performing, non-charter middle school in Florida, beating out Woodham Middle by only two points.

The development of an instructional improvement system completely dropped off the radar. Funds were used elsewhere. A Race to The Top director was hired for $70,000. A flight academy at Escambia High was funded by $750,000 with Race to the Top money.

The last mention of Race of the Top was in August 2015 when Thomas announced his Vision 2020 initiative that would provide every student a laptop by the 2017-18 school year. Race to the Top funds would help pay for the computers, according to the superintendent.

Achieve Escambia needs to figure out why the Race to the Top funds – $8.37 million – failed to build a instructional improvement system in the Escambia County School District.