Gates Foundation’s new school initiative awards $1.1M grant for JeffCo schools

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Twelve schools in Jefferson County, Ala. are working together to improve 8th and 9th grade math through a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation grant to the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB).

The $1.1 million grant is one of 19 grants announced Tuesday by the foundation. SREB will use the grant to launch a network of 10 secondary schools that will focus on increasing the proficiency rates of Black, Latino, and low-income students on 8th grade math and 9th grade Algebra 1 in the Jefferson County part of Birmingham, Ala.

“A poor start in high school math derails far too many students, but we can change that course if we find what works to prepare them,” said SREB President Stephen L. Pruitt. “By managing two networks — one urban and one rural — we will be able to learn and share critical lessons about improvement cycles within and across schools with similar challenges.”

This summer, to understand the underlying causes of poor math performance, SREB began working with Jefferson County educators to collect data and conduct focus groups with students and teachers. Teams within and across schools are harnessing the power of the network to investigate problems and share solutions. Some have begun plan-do-study-act cycles to test strategies. Over time, promising solutions will be shared across the network to gather more data and further improve them.

“We’re unpeeling the onion, figuring out why we’re not making progress, so teachers can find strategies for these individual students in these specific schools,” said Lauri Johnson, SREB organizational improvement director. “This is a singular opportunity to develop a continuous improvement mindset that focuses deeply on the needs of each student.”

Urban and Rural Networks for School Improvement

Jefferson County urban network schools

  • Corner High School
  • Corner Middle School
  • Minor Middle School
  • Minor High School
  • Bragg Middle School
  • Erwin Middle School
  • Gardendale High School
  • Oak Grove High School
  • Irondale Middle School
  • Shades Valley High School
  • Hueytown High School
  • Center Point High School

Rural network

  • 10 schools to be announced in late 2018

SREB and Jefferson County have partnered since 2015 on school improvement strategies across the district’s middle and high schools.

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