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How One Seattle School Will Use Millions In Turnaround Grant Money

Kyle Stokes
Teacher Colin Pierce speaks with students in his International Baccalaureate "Theory of Knowledge" class at Rainier Beach High School.

The school day at Seattle's Rainier Beach High School is about to get longer and the curriculum, some staff say, is about to get a lot more rigorous.

Rainier Beach is one of 13 Washington schools state officials selected Thursday to receive a share of a $24 million grant over the next three years — money federal officials earmarked for helping schools with some of the state's lowest test scores and graduation rates.

"None of this money's sustainable, but... to escape from what can often be a cycle of neglect and being under-resourced, schools need to reach a certain escape velocity," said Rainier Beach teacher Colin Pierce. "I think this grant's going to allow us to do that."

Though state officials are still determining how to divide the federal School Improvement Grant among the 13 schools, Rainier Beach's $4.3 million application includes thousands for adding a seventh-class period to Rainier Beach's current six-period day.

That will free time for students to take the full slate of International Baccalaureate, or IB, classes — rigorous, college-preparatory courses similar to the more-widely offered Advanced Placement program. For the first time next year, every Rainier Beach junior will take an IB English course.

But Pierce, who coordinates the school's fledgling IB program, says expanding International Baccalaureate offerings to all students is only one reason for longer day.

"We need to provide more credit-earning opportunities for students," he said. "Our state is moving to the Core 24 [diploma requirements], and we need to be able to provide more classes and also more electives. Our students don't get the chance to engage in non-academic classes during a six-period day, during a shorter day."

In its application, Rainier Beach staff also asked for money paying for teacher training, instructional coaches, student tutoring and a full-time "family engagement coordinator" for community outreach.

The state picked other Puget Sound-area schools to receive grant funds. The Highline School District's Chinook and Cascade middle schools were repeat recipients, having been selected to receive School Improvement Grants in 2011.

Tacoma's First Creek Middle School and Roosevelt Elementary School also received grants.

Here's a map showing the 13 schools receiving School Improvement Grants:

Kyle Stokes covers the issues facing kids and the policies impacting Washington's schools for KPLU.