02-13 great grants

02-13 great grants

Kentucky School Advocate

School Energy Managers Project, plugged back in

By Madelynn Coldiron
Staff Writer

When the School Energy Managers Project ended last spring, many school districts in southwestern and southern Kentucky, faced with shrinking budgets, were unable to keep energy managers on their payroll without the help of the federal funds that supported the project.

That will soon change, with the awarding of a grant to KSBA from a settlement agreement between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Tennessee Valley Authority. KSBA will receive $700,000 to help fund the equivalent of up to nine energy managers to serve school districts in and adjacent to TVA service counties. Based on the track record of the SEMP, the project should produce $2.4 million in annual energy cost avoidance over its two-year span by reducing energy use by 5 percent.

“Energy management is not a ‘one and done’ process,” said Ron Willhite, former SEMP director who will also oversee this new program. “Bullitt, Butler, Kenton, Warren and Madison county districts, for example, have shown that a continued focus on best energy practices will continue to grow savings.”

The TVA settlement grant money will pick up half the cost of the energy managers’ salary through 2014-15, while districts must fund the other half. However, because the funding was awarded in mid fiscal year, some districts may not be able to adjust their budgets at this time to pick up their share of the salary. For that reason, the hiring will be phased in, starting with the 12 or so school districts that had committed to the project. A second round of hiring will begin with the start of the new fiscal year, July 1, encompassing the remaining districts that want to participate.

Districts will have to decide how to share the services of an energy manager, as they did with SEMP.

“I would expect for the most part the prior SEMP partnerships would emerge,” Willhite said. He said he hopes some of the former energy managers can be re-hired, though they will still have to go through the hiring process.

It’s uncertain how many of the eligible districts will choose to participate, since they will be responsible for half the salary during a time when budgets are stressed. “The same basic challenge of employing a nonteaching position exists, even though energy managers have produced savings more than their cost and (the cost of) several teaching positions,” Willhite said.

The duties of the energy manager with the TVA grant are similar to those under the SEMP. Among them are analyzing utility bills and rates; conducting energy assessments; evaluating energy system alternatives; working with district and school energy teams in initiating best energy practices; communicating energy efficient practices to staff, students and the community; assisting with Energy Star certification; and collaborating with teachers to work energy efficiency into the curriculum.

If participation doesn’t warrant the hiring of the full complement of energy managers, the balance of the funding will go toward energy efficiency projects in those schools receiving TVA service. The school systems would have to match that funding, however.

KSBA will administer and monitor the grant, assist the district partnerships and coordinate professional development for the energy managers.

This grant follows a recent announcement of pending funding to KSBA through Louisville Gas & Electric and Kentucky Utilities that also will enable the hiring of more energy managers.

The latest KSBA grant was one of 13 allocated from the total TVA settlement of $11.2 million. The settlement, resulting from alleged violations of the Clean Air Act, requires TVA to invest in new and upgraded state-of-the-art pollution controls that will reduce pollution, save energy and protect public health and the environment.

“These projects represent many innovative initiatives in schools, universities, private industry, agriculture, non-profits, and local government and will help us to further the state’s energy and environmental goals, and provide long-term benefits to the citizens of the Commonwealth,” said Gov. Steve Beshear in announcing the grants.

Board members Race to the Top

By Madelynn Coldiron
Staff Writer

From preschools and day care centers to middle and high schools, a program funded by a four-year, $40-million federal  Race to the Top grant will make substantive changes in 22 school districts in western and central Kentucky.

But the innovation won’t be taking place only within schools. The school boards at the helm of those districts also will benefit from the project in the form of additional professional development, with the help of KSBA.

“It is our philosophy that the more  knowledgeable school boards are about the educational challenges faced by students across Kentucky, the better prepared they will be to make data-based decisions around student performance every day,” said George Wilson, executive director of the Green River Regional Educational Cooperative, the lead agency that received the grant. “To that end, we see these 22 school board teams and the work we will do with KSBA as a model for the state."

The inclusion of school boards in the project is recognition of the effect boards can have on student achievement in their district, said David Baird, KSBA’s associate executive director. And, he said he believes the training they receive “will enhance their ability to serve their communities at a much more high-quality level.”

The original Race to the Top legislation envisioned that evaluation of school board members would be part of the funded programs, along with teachers, principals and superintendents, explained Johna Rodgers, grant writer for GRREC. That piece was later dropped, she said.

“However, it seemed wise to us, and I might say wise to George Wilson, that we continue to look at that and to think about – not how to evaluate – but how to create a growth plan for board members that would allow them to improve in  their skills and in their judgments related to education,” she said.

KSBA’s current board self-evaluation tools are expected to be a starting point to develop what Wilson calls “an enhanced School Board Member Professional Growth and Development Model” that could eventually be used statewide.

“This would likely fall under the leadership initiative of the grant,” Wilson said. “This is not intended to be an evaluation of a school board member’s ability but rather an opportunity to meet a school board member wherever he or she is on the learning continuum, and help him or her become better in that role.”

The KSBA instruments that will be adapted to the project produce a snapshot of a board’s current status, which serves as a starting point for focusing future progress, said Kerri Schelling, KSBA’s director of Board Team Development.

“We think it sets a good precedent for the board to hold itself accountable, the way other district employees are and the way the superintendent is through an evaluation process,” she said.

The grant, which will be split among the participating districts based on student population, will fund a multi-tiered effort that is aimed at better preparing students for college and careers and at personalizing education for students. It will be important for school boards in those districts to absorb that latter concept, which emphasizes that students should be responsible for their own learning, Rodgers said.

Sixteen of the districts are members of the GRREC; six others are in the Ohio Valley Educational Cooperative, a partner in the initiative.
 
The project’s four key components are:
 
• Developing student leadership, critical thinking, creativity, teamwork and problem-solving abilities

• Improving and supporting principal and teacher performance, including making data-based decisions

• Shifting to a system in which students progress through mastery of standards rather than grade by grade

• Implementing personalized learning for all students through their own learning needs and preferences, through online and off-campus opportunities and other strategies.

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