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The East Baton Rouge Parish School Board tentatively agreed Thursday to start spending some of the $2.2 million in federal funds it was awarded last month to help improve classroom instruction at 32 of its lowest-performing schools.

But before giving final approval, the School Board is holding a special meeting Wednesday to hear more about the plans for these schools, which all have received D and F letter grades from the state. If the board likes what it hears, it is then expected to approve the spending the next day, July 19, when it holds its regular monthly meeting.

Although the pursuit of this grant has been in the making for nearly a year, several board members expressed concern the school system waited too long to get teachers and other stakeholders on board with its plans.

“I want everybody to really be behind this,” worried board member Jill Dyason.

Superintendent Warren Drake said he’s happy to explain at length what his administration wants to do in these schools, but he warned that many of the planned purchases are time-sensitive and need to be acted on soon.

“You gotta ask yourself, do we need some help in these schools?” Drake asked. “And the answer would be yes.”

The Louisiana Department of Education has awarded roughly $33 million in school improvement grants this year out of more than $100 million in requests. The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education approved the money for East Baton Rouge in its second round of awards, on June 20.

The award ended up about $1.2 million less than what East Baton Rouge Parish asked for. And it arrived just weeks before Aug. 6, the district's start of the 2018-19 school year.

Associate Superintendent Ben Necaise said training of teachers and principals has already begun, paid for from other funding until the board approves the spending. He said it’s intense work that will continue throughout the school year.

“It’s robust,” Necaise said. “It’s not just come in for one day.”

The bulk of the money is coming from a state-administered federal program known as School Redesign, which offers funds to help turn around the nation’s most persistently struggling public schools.

Gretchen Lampe, an administrator with the Louisiana Association of Educators, said she’s spoken to teachers at some of the affected schools who are oblivious to what’s coming because they weren’t included in the planning.

“They lack knowledge of what’s in store because they were never part of the plan,” Lampe said.

The board on Thursday recommended moving forward with the following purchases:

  • An unspecified amount of money to Great Minds, LLC to buy math textbooks and other instructional materials, at all grade levels, from the company’s Eureka Math line of books, the most popular math texts in the country. The materials cost between $19 and $26 a student.
  • $165,000 to Teaching Lab to train educators in all parish schools how to use the English Language Arts and literacy resources known as “Guidebooks 2.0” for regular and special education students.
  • $115,000 to Open-Up Resources to train educators in all parish schools how to use its English Language Arts and literacy resources for regular and special education students.

The school redesign grant covers 22 traditional schools, six alternative schools and four district-sponsored charter schools: Children’s Charter, Inspire Charter Academy, J.K. Haynes Charter and South Baton Rouge Charter Academy. All these schools will be part of what the school system is calling an Innovation Zone.

Kirk Green, a history and government teacher teacher at Westdale Middle School, expressed concern the school system will botch putting these new instructional programs into effect, which he said has happened in the past.

“Please make sure all schools are implementing it properly so all schools can receive the resources,” Green urged the board.

Follow Charles Lussier on Twitter, @Charles_Lussier.