Special to the Independent
Leveraging the full capacity of a highly functioning financial team and seizing on opportunities from several sources, the Everett Public Schools (EPS) is finding new streams of grant funding to sharpen its vision, enhance services, and expand opportunities for its students.
The EPS is poised to put close to $9 million in grant funding to work during the 2021-2022 school year. The resources will be used to address Covid-related learning loss, teacher development, special education, English Learners, curriculum, and STEM programming. The money comes from a mix of federal and state sources, private organizations and entities, and competitive opportunities.
This total does not include the federal grant program known as ESSER, the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund. The third round of ESSER funding will be distributed this school year. EPS leaders are currently developing a strategy on how to best use this money, a process that includes a review of a survey in which stakeholders were asked about their priorities among allowable ESSER uses.
Grant planning and implementation is overseen by EPS Chief Financial Officer Anu Medappa Jayanth and Budget and Grants Director Shirley Peng, both of whom work with administrators to seek the funding that is most valuable to EPS students, educators, and families. Financial analyst Jane Jagiello and Grant Coordinator Tracie Haggerty are also an integral part of shepherding grants from the initial application process to the launch of the program or initiative.
“Our grant planning is very deliberate and intentional,” says Superintendent of Schools Priya Tahiliani. “We pursue opportunities that advance our core values and address areas that are perhaps unaccounted for during the regular budget cycle.”
According to EPS leaders, the process of applying for competitive grants is a useful exercise unto itself. It requires collaboration, thoughtfulness, and a clear strategy that successfully aligns budget and instructional priorities. “You cannot lunge for every dollar that is available, as tempting as that might be,” says Jayanth, who came to Everett after working for the public-school systems in Chicago and Boston. “We need to be sure that the grant meets the needs of the EPS and that the EPS can meet the demands of the grant.”
Some grants are straightforward and targeted. For example, the EPS received a $15,000 grant to help support students and families complete the essential but complex FAFSA college financial aid process. Others allow for more tailoring to EPS-specific needs and objectives. Some grants are one-time only, while others are distributed over multiple years. “Grants provide the great opportunity to match the creative and proactive ideas we have as a district with the funding source they require to enact them,” says Superintendent Tahiliani.
Highlights of the 28 grant programs the EPS will implement this coming school year include:
A $535,336 GLEAM grant, which will be distributed over three years. GLEAM stands for Growing Literacy Excellent Across Massachusetts. The EPS will utilize this money to provide students in grades six through eight expanded access to high-quality programming in English Language Arts.
A $90,796 STEM Equipment and Professional Development Grant that the district will use to enhance science curriculum in grades five through eight. Funded by the Baker-Polito Administration and the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, this grant will enable the EPS to align its science instruction across all middle schools, buy equipment, and expand access to hands-on experiments and activities.
“The GLEAM and STEM grants are prime examples of a one-time grant paving the way for sustained improvements for our students,” said Superintendent Tahiliani. “Curriculum refinements, procuring the best equipment, and aligning standards are things that endure far after the funds have been expended.”
A $72,700 grant from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to offer an intensive, one-week Acceleration Academy in EPS elementary schools this past August. Building leaders and teachers identified and invited between 50-70 students to participate in this proven method of improving student outcomes.
The EPS held successful academies during the April vacation, while Everett High School offered an additional one-week session immediately after the 2020-2021 school year concluded. “DESE is enthusiastic about, and supportive of, acceleration academies,” said Superintendent Tahiliani. “We are more than willing to take advantage of these opportunities in Everett as an added layer of instruction and support to students who need it the most.”
A $2,450 Digital Literacy and Computer Science (DLCS) grant to buy technology such as circuit boards, robotics, and tablets. The devices and accessories purchased with this grant will be aligned with Massachusetts Digital Literacy and Computer Science standards.
EPS officials say that applying for, administering, and assessing grants is a crucial way to make significant and sweeping improvements across the district. “There are tremendous resources and partnerships to be forged, whether it is through government agencies or private foundations and organizations,” says Superintendent Tahiliani. “And we will continue to be unwavering in pursuing worthwhile funding opportunities that give our students and teachers more support and services.”