Dozen Applications Put NJ Schools in the Running for ‘Race to the Top’ Grants

Two charter networks among those seeking up to $30 million in federal funds

While applications submitted by Newark and Paterson public schools got the headlines, another 10 New Jersey applications were also filed for federal Race to the Top funds, including two from charter operators.

The 12 applications filed by Thursday’s deadline sought federal grants ranging from $5 million to $30 million to bolster “personalized learning,” with a big emphasis on technological improvements.

Newark and Paterson were the two largest school districts to apply this year. In each case, however, the teachers unions in those state-operated districts refused to support the proposals, all but disqualifying the applications since the rules require union support.

With less attention — and apparently with support from their teachers — 10 other applications were submitted statewide, including large and small districts, urban and suburban.

One application was submitted by four Monmouth County districts that were finalists last year, missing out in reviewers’ scorecards by just seven points on a scale to 210.

The consortium is led by Neptune Township schools, and includes Belmar, Bradley Beach and Neptune City. They are seeking a total of $15 million to help build out new technology and for tracking of students through what it is calling “digital portfolios.”

“We took last year’s application and the judge’s scorecard, and attacked it from there,” said David Mooij, the Neptune superintendent.

Mooij said they took out some pieces that the districts started last year despite losing the grant, and added in some new initiatives, like an “early college” program for high school students to get college credits through Brookdale Community College.

‘We feel really encouraged this time,” Mooij said.

Two of New Jersey’s applications are from charter schools, including one organization – the Mastery charter network — that has yet to open a school in the state.

The Philadelphia-based organization has state approval to open a school in Camden but yet to do so due to challenges in finding suitable facilities. State officials said Friday that since the grants are distributed over a span of four years, the money would be available when and if the Mastery charter ever opens in Camden.

The other charter applicant is more recognizable: the TEAM Academy charter network, which has become the state’s largest.

Now in Newark and expanding into Camden starting next year, TEAM is seeking $10 million to build out a data-tracking system that will help it provide students and families more comprehensive information about where their school performance is taking them in terms of college opportunities.

“Now we can set personalized goals for every single kid, and not just academic but also character ones and in the activities they’re involved in,” said Ryan Hill, executive director of TEAM Schools.

“It goes into great, great depth so our kids know as early as kindergarten what track they are on,” he said. “The idea is to give students and families a real clarity to what their options are.”

Here’s the complete list of New Jersey applicants for Race to the Top education grants:

  • Bergenfield/Cliffside Park
  • Brick
  • East Orange
  • Elizabeth
  • Hamilton Township
  • Hammonton
  • Mastery Charter School (Camden)
  • Neptune consortium
  • Newark
  • Paterson
  • Randolph
  • TEAM Academy