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District 55 selected for $13.5 million in educator incentive grant

Laurens, South Carolina – Laurens County School District 55 announced at a recent press conference that it had been selected for a highly competitive, federally funded Teacher and School Leader Incentive Grant totaling $13.5 million over a three year period.
To prepare for the application process, the district partnered with the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching (NIET), which has long been assisting District 55 with Teacher Advancement Program training. Now with the incoming grant funds, NIET will expand its role with the district in implementing training and additional programming designed to increase effectiveness among the district’s teachers and school leaders.

The grant is funded by the U.S. Department of Education.

Dist. 55 Teacher of the Year Katie Waldrop – Photos by Judith Brown

According to its Office of Elementary and Secondary Education website, the funds are to be used to assist teachers and school leaders, especially in high-need schools, to raise student growth, increase academic achievement and help close the gap between high- and low-performing students.
During the short application period early this summer, Thomas and other district officials worked with regional NIET staff to develop its grant proposal. It included an expansion of the Teacher Advancement Program already in place, and the development of the Laurens Educators Achieving Results to Net Success (LEARNS) project. Thomas then joined NIET staff in Washington, D.C. to pursue additional support.
“We engaged with legislators and the U.S. Department of Education to passionately advocate for this grant on behalf of our students, our teachers and our community,” Thomas said. “We are hopeful that its impact will extend beyond the walls of our schools and into the very fabric of our community.”
The funds will allow District 55 to greatly expand its partnership with NIET and add additional programs to make that happen, explained Tanee Hudgens, vice president of research for NIET, which is based in California.

Dr. Ameca Thomas

“I see a culture of teamwork here,” Hudgens said. “I listen and talk to our team members who are on the ground in this district weekly and hear the great stories that they’ve told us.”
Now NIET will begin working with District 55 teachers and principals who wish to take advantage of the incentive programs.
“Our students are the reason we’re here each and every day,” said Katie Waldrop, the District 55 Teacher of the Year who represented the district faculty at the press conference. “As we strive to be the best educators and to impact our community and the students that we come into contact with, this program and grant will give us the opportunity to have real-life experience, additional support in and out of the classroom, additional training and give us the confidence and things that we need in order to support our students.”

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