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JEHS to get $4M improvement grant

John Essex High School will see a number of big changes over the next three years, thanks to a $4-million school improvement grant it will receive from the U.S. Department of Education, having been selected by the Alabama Department of Education.

“We are honored to have been chosen as a recipient of this grant,” said Marengo County Schools superintendent Luke Hallmark. “John Essex may always be a small school, but I think we will have the opportunity to recruit more students. Presently, we have about 205 students from kindergarten through 12th grade. We would love to have – over the next three years – to get our enrollment up to 350 or something like that.

“Our goal is academic achievement. We want all of our students to be super graduates. We want this transformation model that we’re putting in to be something that people all over will want to follow, to come to John Essex and see how it works, to see why our kids are performing so well on tests.”

John Essex will receive $4,087,543 over the next three years, receiving about $1.5 million in the first year and about $1.2 million in each of the next two years. JEHS was listed as a Tier I school.

“Schools are identified in three different tiers for the school improvement grant,” said Michael Sibley of the Alabama Department of Education. “It’s a way of identifying the different variables in each school.”

“The whole premise of the grant is that it is a total school transformation,” said Jana Hoggle, the director of federal programs and technology for Marengo County Schools. “What that means is that it will become a technological showcase as far as the technology they will have in the schools: SmartBoards, projectors, InterWrite pads, netBooks for all of the students. But then, it will be structurally transformational as well. Basically, they are going to change the way they teach.”

John Essex High School chose the transformation model in applying for the grant.

“This is going to be a really intense transformation model that we are putting in place,” Hallmark said. “Part of the grant is that we will be bringing in a new principal, and we’ll be looking for a transformation specialist. We’ll be looking for a technology coach. We’ll be putting in a lot of equipment. Our teachers will be issued laptops, and there will be a lot of professional training.

“We’re going to extend the school day. We’re going to start at 7:30 and go to 3:30. We have some supplements in place for academic achievement.”

Hoggle added that the other three county schools – A.L. Johnson, Marengo and Sweet Water – are in the running to receive grants as Tier III schools, and grants for that level will be announced on June 1.

“It’s very rewarding for the students at John Essex,” Hoggle said. “That’s what we’re here for; it’s all about the kids. The possibilities that it opens up for them – it’s just great.”