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— School officials are in the process of spending $459,041 in federal stimulus money to ensure better safety, increased student achievement and new technology for Decatur students.

The Decatur School District received funding in three areas as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act; Title I for improving the academic achievement of low-income students, Title VI funding for special needs programs and State Fiscal Stabilization money to be used for modernizing facilities, construction and expansion. The district has until December 2011 to spend the money in all three categories.

Decatur schools were allocated $84,536 of Title I money, which school officials plan to spend in two areas, according to district curricular specialist Dawn Stewart.

The first area will be a district-wide professional development program, including a tuition reimbursement program, that will support teachers who are going back to school to work on advanced degrees such as a masters degree.

"Many are already working on this, and this is an additional incentive to keep going," Stewart said.

The second portion of Title I funds will be used to outfit classrooms with the latest technology. The district is purchasing 28 SMARTBoards, as well as CPS or Classroom Performance Systems that use hand-held remotes and interactive software to get real-time input from students during a class. Most classrooms will have a SMARTBoard, and the distinct will have two mobile SMARTBoards for classrooms where it is not conducive to have a board hung on the wall, Stewart said.

"We're preparing the students for the Twenty-first Century which is very technology driven," she said.

The school will also use the funds to purchase general materials and supplies for classrooms. All of the new equipment will be distributed evenly between the two campuses, Stewart explained.

"And that all falls right along with the goal of Title 1. The goal of Title I is to help the students with increased student achievement on state assessments."

The Decatur School District is receiving $140,769 in Title VI funding for special needs programs. A handicapped-accessible bus is on order and should be in use by January, Stewart said. The funds will also be used to purchase security cameras for all the buses.

School officials are also planning to use Title VI funds to hire an instructional paraprofessional - or teacher's aide - to do academic intervention with small groups of children in grades kindergarten through fifth.

Title VI funds are also being used for upgrading technology and for equipment and supplies in special education classrooms.

The school is set to receive $233,736 in State Fiscal Stabilization funding to be used for modernizing facilities, construction and expansion.

The district is purchasing Zonar, an electronic safety check system for the school buses. Most districts in Northwest Arkansas are equipped with Zonar, Stewart said. Bus drivers have a hand-held device that takes them through a safety check of all areas of the bus before and after the bus is in transit.

With the new system, the transportation department will have a base unit that will use global positioning system technology to track exactly where the buses are while they are on their routes, as well as their speed and travel time, she said.

"It makes everyone aware of what is going on around the buses in transit and before and after," Stewart said.

The system has already been ordered and is due to be installed in mid-October, she said. It has also customized to meet the Decatur School District's needs.

"Between that and security cameras, it will make a big difference in bus safety for all of the students," Stewart said, "It was an investment in safety ... which is critical."

The district also received funds to be spent in vocational areas. Part of the money was spent to buy new sewing machines for the family and consumer science department to support vocational education.

ARRA funds were also used to purchase two additional Automatic External Defibrillation devices, giving the district a total of three AEDs. There will be one of the portable, electronic cardiac recitation devices at each campus and one to travel with the sports teams. The school nurses will be providing teachers and coaches with training on how to use the AEDs, Stewart said.

The maintenance department and technology specialist Tammy Cline are very busy getting the new equipment and SMARTBoards installed, Stewart said.

"It's truly what we need to help prepare the kids," she said, "It's our obligation to prepare the students for what they will face in college."

Some of the new measures will carry over into next year, including the tuition reimbursement program, and the new instructional paraprofessional, she said.

"The plans have all been approved by the Department of Education and we were very diligent about getting them in and getting them approved so everything could be fully utilized this year," Stewart said.

News, Pages 1, 2 on 09/30/2009

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