"We're going to have at least $80,000, which is about $2,000 more than last year," said Dot Frasier, executive director of the foundation. "[But] we will only be able to fund about 45 to 47 percent of the requests, so a lot of the good grants are going to be not funded due to lack of funds -- even though our payroll deduction is up, our giving is up, we've just never had this many requests before. It's a win-win situation for us, but it breaks my heart to say 'No' to some of these wonderful grants."
Frasier's estimate is based on the foundation's maximum grant award amount of $500, though not all grants will require the maximum amount. Based on her estimate, out of 383 grant applications, schools in the Bartow County district could see a total of 172 to 180 grants given. The grants can be given to practically any staff member -- from teachers, paraprofessionals, media specialists, lunchroom staff, nurses and even bus drivers -- and can be used to buy supplemental items such as books, multimedia and more.
Fueling this year's total award amount, Frasier said, is a payroll deduction system that allows all county system employees to denote part of their earnings to the foundation. Businesses, groups and individuals also have donated money, she added, and those who have sponsored a grant will be able to present their donation at January's grant banquet.
The teacher grant program is the Bartow Education Foundation's largest initiative and comes on the heels of its second-largest campaign -- the Teacher of the Year program. In addition to a free dinner at the Cartersville Country Club, the foundation provided more than $12,000 in gifts and prizes to the 20 Teachers of the Year, one from each of the district's schools. The district Teacher of the Year, Ryan Satterfield, received a gift of $500, a crystal bowl valued at $250 and a gold watch valued at $500 among a few of the more that 50 gifts donated by foundation board members and supporters from the community.
This year's teacher grant recipients have not yet been determined, as foundation staff members and supporters are still reading through the submitted requests. Frasier said each grant request has been read by at least three readers, including by someone familiar with the grade level(s) that an awarded grant would impact. Each reader, she added, has read about 65 grants each.
Among those readers were Janice Gordon, School Improvement coordinator for Bartow County Schools, and Lynn Huskins, the district's administrative specialist to the superintendent. The two read a portion of the grants aimed at the elementary level.
"What we were directed to do was to read the grants, we had a rubric that we were looking at to determine content, budget, creativity of the grants, if they had supporting data. Then based on that, we scored them, and after we scored them all, we were to rank them," Gordon said. "It was very difficult [to rank them] because of the quality of the grants.
"A lot of them gave great information on the data about children not scoring well in a content area, or test scores and assessments that were showing that there truly was a need in that area," Gordon added, "so they're having to look at that, and then they're looking at the state standards ... so they would give information about which standards their grant would be applicable to, then tell how many students it would serve, and then also had to give detailed information about the budget and cost of [it]."
Huskins echoed Gordon's sentiments.
"It was hard, because so many of them, you could just really see them utilizing that for the children not just one time or two, but for multiple years," Huskins said. "And then after we [scored] all 60 or 65 that we were assigned, we then had to go back and rank our top 20, and that was really difficult to do, because you could tell in all of the teachers there was just that passion behind every grant.
"I was impressed on how much research they did when they were asking for the grant -- the research of the CRCT scores now, how much [a purchase] could increase those CRCT scores," she added. "So you could tell that they put a lot of passion into it."
Frasier said Gordon and Huskins were not the only ones impressed with teachers' and staff members' funding requests.
"Everybody said [they] could not believe the quality of the grants and the things [school staff members] are doing," she said. "It's just phenomenal the creativity that these teachers have and the ideas that they come up with that will turn the students on and make them interested and help motivate them to learn."
Those selected to receive grants will be honored Jan. 11 during the foundation's Teacher Grant Program Banquet, scheduled for 6 p.m. at the Cartersville Civic Center. In the days beyond that event, Gordon said she is looking forward to revisiting the grant program specifics once recipients have had time to put their requested programs into place.
"One of the things as I read these is that in my job as coordinator for School Improvement, I thought, 'I'm going to make a note of this, and I want go out if they get that grant to see it in action,' because there were programs they addressed that I had not heard of," she said.
Frasier said she believes the grants have played a part in helping the schools improve academically.
"Since we started this grant program, I like to think that the grants have played a small part in increasing the test scores and decreasing the dropout rate," she said. "There have been a lot of other factors but I do know that the teacher grants have really helped in that area."