Union County Schools gets $27 million grant for teacher retention, academic achievement

UNION COUNTY, NC (WBTV) - Union County Public Schools (UCPS) is excited it received a $27 million grant from the Department of Education's Teacher and School Leader (TSL) Incentive Program.

UCPS is the only school district in North Carolina to get the grant, and it's one of only 14 school districts in the nation. Superintendent Dr. Andrew Houlihan says he jumped for joy when he found out the district got the money.

"We're going to make major investments through this grant on leadership development," Houlihan said. "So ensuring that our principals are really geared up as instructional leaders."

This is a three-year grant. If improvements are made, the grant can be extended for another two years. That could mean the grant could equal $45 million.

The money will go to these 13 schools high poverty schools in Union County: Benton Heights, East, Marshville, Rock Rest, Rocky River, Sardis, Union, Walter Bickett and Wingate elementary schools as well as East Union and Monroe middle schools and Forest Hills and Monroe high schools.

The superintendent says the money will be spent correctly.

"In working with the Department of Education in the past," Houlihan said. "I know that they will be monitoring and so we are going to be 100 percent committed and transparent to the public and department."

The money will recruit good teachers by offering them signing bonuses and give effective teachers more money for boosting test scores.

"Hopefully, all of our students will see is every time they walk in a classroom - is seeing somebody who is experienced, understands what effective teaching is," Forest Hills High School Principal Dr. Kevin Plue said.

Plue says having a great teacher in every classroom can make the difference.

"Anything that is viewed as an ill within education can be solved," Plue said. "By having good teachers in every classroom."

The grant will also fund programs that will help improve student behavior.

"Really looking at what's happening with school culture," Houlihan said. "School discipline, training around restorative justice."

The grant will allow the district to give teachers stipends so they can get paid attending professional development training during the summer. It will also promote leadership amongst teachers.

"Teachers, particularly in secondary schools, can have a few off periods to help coach, mentor, observe other teachers in their same grade level to really focus on teacher leadership," the superintendent said.

Forest Hills High School principal also likes the grant will fund student trips to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU's).

"It's really important that we make sure that students of all races get to see other people around them that are being successful that look like them. That come from the same places they come from," Plue said.

Plue says he will also use those HBCU trips to recruit potential teachers.

The grant money is expected to come any day and UCPS leaders hope it will bring teacher retention and boost academic achievement.

"We're expecting that needle to move academically," Houlihan said.

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