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Two Rural i3 Recipients Show Improvement, Tout Benefits of Federal Grant

Two persistently low-performing rural schools say they've seen big changes in culture and test scores since receiving a federal Investing in Innovation grant three years ago.

Coalinga Middle in Coalinga, Calif., and Hamlet Middle in Hamlet, N.C., were among a consortium of 18 schools awarded a four-year, $6 million grant to close the achievement gap and boost overall student achievement.

The Schools to Watch: School Transformation Network was an effort of the National Forum to Accelerate Middle-Grades Reform. The Rural School and Community Trust provided a 20 percent match for the group to work with six rural and small town schools.

The Rural Trust published two lengthy articles on the project and results in those two schools. Educators interviewed at the schools say the grant has helped improve the school culture and empower teachers to focus on student achievement. Both schools say they've had little faculty turnover, and test scores have improved.

The network has given each school a principal coach and school coach, who help the school problem solve and build better structures to encourage collaboration and efficacy. The i3 schools also received money that enabled teachers to visit other high-performing Schools to Watch sites. With those supports, schools go through a process that leads to them working together more and sharing leadership responsibilities.

"We had been through a lot of reform models before," said Sabrina Greiten, principal of Coalinga Middle, in the story. "They had all asked school staff to come up with a vision and a statement of who we were. We couldn't do that well because we didn't know who we weren't. In this process you don't start with an abstract vision. You start with actions and through your actions you learn who you are. Now we know who we are at Coalinga and our vision for ourselves and the students and the school is authentic because it's ours."

Although it's still too early to say whether any of the i3 winners are making a statistically significant difference on student achievement, a recent Education Week story showed these first-round recipients are doing good research to determine whether their efforts do.

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