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Duquesne Elementary to receive $1.3M School Improvement Grant

| Saturday, Aug. 9, 2014, 1:21 a.m.
Jennifer R. Vertullo | Trib Total Media
Stan Whiteman, assistant to the superintendent and acting assistant principal, and Jennifer Jennings, acting principal, plan the implementation of several school improvement initiatives for Duquesne City School District in 2014-15.

Duquesne Elementary is among nine public schools across Pennsylvania that will receive its share of $21 million in grant funding for educational improvement.

Gov. Tom Corbett awarded Duquesne City School District a $1,338,804 School Improvement Grant for the transformation of its kindergarten through sixth-grade elementary program.

“Pennsylvania is home to thousands of high-quality educators; however, there are still too many schools that have a history of failing to provide students with a quality education,” Corbett said. “Through the federal School Improvement Grant program, schools have the opportunity to implement innovative educational initiatives to better meet the needs of their students and improve academic performance.”

Duquesne's court-appointed receiver, Paul B. Long, said the district is pleased to learn of the governor's announcement that a local School Improvement Grant was approved.

With the grant allocated in equal annual amounts over the course of three years, Long explained, the district's plan to apply the funding will be revised slightly.

“In the original grant application, several new initiatives were proposed to include pre-kindergarten, extended school day, model classroom professional development, parent involvement and increased social worker services,” Long said. “Now that we know the amount each year, we will prepare a budget revision to assign specific amounts in each year for each initiative. This grant will enable worthwhile programs that will enhance teaching and improve learning at Duquesne Elementary School.”

The district's acting principal, Jennifer Jennings, and acting assistant principal, Stan Whiteman, said the grant will support concepts introduced during the 2013-14 academic year and allow teachers and students to flourish in 2014-15 and subsequent years.

“What we do this year will be a continuation from last year with new developments in our curriculum,” Whiteman said. “Strengthening instructional technology within the school district will provide teachers with the opportunity and experience to enhance lessons for all students.”

The Pennsylvania Department of Education awarded the nine grants through a competitive process involving 20 applicants, though 47 schools qualified. Applications were reviewed by a peer panel that made award recommendations.

For a facility to be eligible for funding, it must be among the lowest-achieving schools in Pennsylvania that has not made substantial progress on state assessments, or has a graduation rate of less than 60 percent for at least two of the last three years.

Duquesne City School District operates only elementary-level classrooms. Students in seventh through 12th grades travel to East Allegheny and West Mifflin Area schools.

A preschool program for 4 year olds, for students whose birthdays fall before Aug. 31, is in the works for 2014-15.

“We want to offer an alternative to families whose children aren't enrolled in the HeadStart program,” Jennings explained. “We want more children to have the opportunity to attend a quality preschool program.”

The program is intended to prepare students for kindergarten while instilling an early love of reading and eagerness to learn. Long said early literacy lays a solid foundation for success in kindergarten, first grade and future years.

“Education starts at birth,” Jennings agreed. “The most pivotal years are birth to age 6, which sets them up for success in meeting their educational benchmarks.”

Jennifer R. Vertullo is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1956, or