Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that the district received a Gates Foundation grant in January to fund teacher training. That grant was awarded to help the district assess its professional development programs and prepare the district's proposal for the $5 million grant.
Fresno Unified School District has won a $5 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to help implement the new Common Core standards and pay for teachers' professional development training.
The district is one of only three nationwide picked for the Innovative Professional Development grant. Long Beach Unified is also set to get $5 million. The third went to the Jefferson County School District in Golden, Colo.
The grant won't pay for new iPads or school supplies, but will be used to teach educators new skills and improve the way they deliver lesson plans.
Fresno Unified Superintendent Michael Hanson said Wednesday the dollars will help personalize training for teachers in grades seven through 12. Hanson said he's convinced that's what will help kids most.
"There's not a lot of sexy, magic, pixie dust kind of stuff out there for reform, it's just not that magical," he said. "The stuff that works is getting kids more time with an effective teacher."
For example, instead of giving all math teachers the same refresher classes, schools will now target specific skills that individual teachers lack. The dollars will also go toward contracting with a Santa Cruz-based nonprofit, the New Teacher Center, which specializes in boosting teachers' effectiveness, according to its website.
Providing even basic feedback to teachers on how they're doing in the classroom can be a challenge for many districts nationwide, even though they spend more than $13 billion annually on K-12 professional development training, said Gates Foundation spokeswoman Eloise Quintanilla. Much of that training is wasted, she said, because teachers don't get guidance in the areas they need.
"Most professional development today is one size fits all, 'sit and get,' " she said in an email. "The (grant) was designed to support a select number of districts to create more effective professional learning systems."
This is the second time this year that the Gates Foundation has given money to Fresno Unified. In January, the district got more than $285,000 for professional development programs and to prepare the district's proposal for the $5 million grant.
The latest grant, which will be disbursed over the next three years, will also help support Fresno Unified's middle school redesign. That overhaul kicks off in August at 11 of the district's 18 middle schools, adding art and language classes to several schools that have long had few, if any, elective classes. It's primarily funded through $4.4 million from Proposition 30, which voters approved in November.
Hanson said the Gates Foundation grant also will be used to implement the new Common Core state standards -- more rigorous math and English benchmarks intended to help students compete globally as they move on to higher education and their careers.
Those standards will be rolled out over the next two years, but Hanson said the new dollars will make the transition happen "more rapidly and more deeply."
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