Only 15 rural school districts around the country received School Climate and Transformation Grants from the Department of Education this summer. Dillingham City School District is one of them.
Dillingham City School District applied for the $3.3 million federal grant in June, with help from the Curyung Tribal Council and SAFE, the town’s women’s shelter. The grant targets positive learning and aims to improve classroom environments. Superintendent Jason Johnson said the funds will reshape the district.
“The news is still really fresh, we’re still gathering our breathes and getting ready for the work ahead,” Johnson said. “As I keep stressing, it’s not often in public education where there’s a revenue stream that’s available that can have such an impact.”
Money from the grant will be distributed over five years. During that time, the district will is roll out a new strategic planning initiative: Connected And Responsive Educators & Students project, or CARES. Johnson said there are four points outlined for the project. One is boosting cultural standards for educators.
“Really we’re trying to give teachers the skills that they need to work with indigenous students in the best way that they can to help them learn,” he said. “Eighty percent of our student body identifies themselves as Alaska Native or a mixture of more than one ethnicity. It’s important if you’re going to teach in Dillingham that we give you the skills you need to make our kids successful.”
The district also wants to build stronger relationships between teachers and students through CARES. Johnson hopes that money from the grant will create opportunities to improve upon this year’s low Performance Evaluation scores. The Alaska Department of Education reported that students underperformed in this year’s PEAKS testing for English and Math.
Johnson said another focus of the project is creating trauma resources. A clinical counselor will be hired for the next five years to aid the district in this effort.
“One of the big pushes statewide is becoming a trauma informed school,” he said. “I think schools today wear a lot more hats than they did in the past. I think that’s part of our work as to how to better support our kids who have that emotional trauma, and it will benefit our staff to be more skilled in that and likely have a good outcome for our students as well.”
In the coming weeks, the district will start strategic planning with the community.
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