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Kennedy Elementary in Willmar, Minn., receives $496K federal grant

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news Willmar, 56201
West Central Tribune
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Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

WILLMAR -- Students at Kennedy Elementary School in Willmar will have the benefit of an additional $500,000 worth of additional instruction time and better training for their teachers.

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The district was notified Friday afternoon that the district has received a $496,000 grant for Kennedy Elementary School in Willmar through the federal School Improvement Grant program. The school could be eligible to receive similar grants for the next two years.

Kennedy has been listed among the lowest-performing schools in the state when it comes to student achievement and the achievement gap between different groups of students.

Superintendent Jerry Kjergaard said a state official called him Friday to give him the news. There is a possibility of receiving similar grants for the next two years.

"He said it is an extremely well-written grant," Kjergaard said. "I'm just pleased as all get out."

Director of Teaching and Learning Cheryl Nash and a team of teachers and administrators worked on the grant application over the summer.

"Those people who worked on the application did a tremendous job," Kjergaard said.

Nash said this week that she has been impressed with the dedication of the Willmar staff, too.

Kjergaard said he didn't have a lot of details yet, but the grant funds should come to the district soon.

"We'll be able to hire people for this fall," he said. "This allows us to put more people with kids, which we can't afford to do."

Grant funding will be used to fund additional training for teachers and to hire intensive instructors to work with students.

Kennedy has been classified as a Priority School by the state, meaning that it is in the lowest 5 percent of schools in achievement and achievement gap measures. Priority schools were eligible to apply for the School Improvement Grant funding.

Roosevelt Elementary School is classified as a Focus School, which means it is listed in the 10 percent of schools with the largest achievement gaps. Roosevelt's scores in state rankings are higher than Kennedy's, and Focus schools are not eligible for the grant program.

Willmar school leaders have said they will use district money to try to replicate the programs developed for Kennedy, so that they can deliver similar services to students at both schools.

Both elementary schools were ranked in a new system developed after Minnesota received a waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind education law.

Where NCLB focused on student achievement, the new system also takes student growth and achievement gaps into account. Both schools were required to write continuous school improvement plans this summer and have them ready to implement when school starts on Tuesday. Kennedy is also following a federally prescribed turnaround plan.

The turnaround plans include a plan called Response to Intervention. All students will have a half hour of intensive instruction during their school day with Response to Intervention. The instruction will take different forms, depending on the needs of each child.

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Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

(320) 214-4340
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