College Park doubles efforts for public education -- Gazette.Net


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Each year, Hollywood Elementary School receives $5,000 from the College Park City Council, to go toward programs including family instructional nights and collaborative planning for teachers, and Principal Barbara Caskey said those funds have given her the ability to make sure every student gets the support they need in subjects like math and reading.

“It’s such a tremendous support to us,” Caskey said. “We get a lot for our money.”

More schools in and around College Park will have the opportunity to apply for similar grants this year, as the city budget more than doubles the pot of money available in the Public Schools Education Grants, and the City Council looks to overhaul how the money is distributed.

Hollywood is one of 11 schools to receive grants from the city since 2008, when the Public School Education Grants program was initiated. The grants ranged from $800 to the $5,000 annual grant awarded to Hollywood and Paint Branch elementary schools, the only public schools within the city’s boundaries.

“We want this area to become known as a place where schools are successful,” Mayor Andrew Fellows said. “We’re really trying to step it up and increase educational opportunities for young people.”

This year, $60,000 — up from $25,000 in 2012 — are set aside for grants in the city’s $14,741,585 fiscal 2013 budget, which is likely to be passed at a May 22 council meeting, according to the city clerk’s office. The 2013 budget is about $637,000 more than the 2012 budget as a result of more commercial development, according to city staff.

Each grading period, Caskey said she uses Hollywood’s funds to hire substitute teachers to teach classes while she meets with each teacher in math, reading and English for Speakers of Other Languages specialists. Every student’s performance and needs are discussed during that time, Caskey said.

“It allows us to collaborate together on long-range goals for each student,” Caskey said.

In the past, schools outside the city lines that serve 15 or more College Park students have applied for competitive grants. But this year the city is looking to make available non-competitive grants —like those given to Hollywood and Paint Branch — to schools outside the city.

In the coming months, the City Council will work with the city’s Education Advisory Committee to decide how the $60,000 will be allocated.

“We’ll be taking suggestions throughout the year,” Fellows said. “Having the money set aside now allows us to be creative in how we spend it. I don’t think we’re going to have trouble spending $60,000 on education.”

Money could continue to be spent as direct grants to schools, Fellows said, or could go as scholarships to individual students for educational programs outside of school. Fellows said the city could work with the University of Maryland, College Park, to bring educational programs to College Park students.

Though the grant program had not come to his attention, county schools spokesman Briant Coleman said that in recent years the city has been proactive in finding ways to help the school system.

“We’re looking forward to continued partnership with the city as we work to expand opportunities to our schools,” Coleman said.

The city is also working with the university to start a public charter school in College Park. An application was submitted to Prince George’s Public Schools for review in March, and will be accepted or rejected by the end of June. The proposal outlines plans for college preparatory school, dubbed College Park Academy, for grades seven to 12, which could open as soon as the fall of 2013.

hnunn@gazette.net