By JAIME STUDD
Recorder News Staff
BROADALBIN -- Next year, the Broadalbin-Perth Central School District will receive more than $1 million in state grant awards, allowing its high school students the opportunity to participate in Advanced Placement classes for the first time since 2006 and the district itself to make significant investments in technology and professional development.
On Thursday, the district announced its receipt of a $465,832 grant to participate in the New York State Education Department's Virtual Advanced Placement (VAP) program.
That announcement was followed by a second on Friday, stating that the district had also been awarded a $525,000 Management Efficiency Competitive Grant, payable in the amount of $175,000 per year over the next three years.
Broadalbin-Perth is one of only 17 districts in the state selected to participate in the VAP program, a pilot program launched by the education department in an effort to improve access to online and blended AP courses for low-income students.
In a press release announcing the awards, State Education Commissioner John B. King said the initiative was developed to help ensure that all New York students are better prepared for both college and the workforce following their graduation from high school.
A total of $17,359,098 in grants were awarded statewide.
"New York already has a good percentage of students taking AP classes and tests," King said in the press release. "But, unfortunately, low-income students don't always get the chance to take AP courses. And those courses are crucial for admission to and success in college."
"New York is a national leader in the use of federal Race to the Top funds to provide high quality, college-level courses using available technologies. Virtual Advanced Placement will open the door to virtual classrooms that will let students take courses on their own schedule and learn at their own pace," he added. "We want every student to be ready for college and careers, not just those who live in districts that can afford to offer AP classes."
According to a press release from Broadalbin Perth, the grant will allow the district to offer a total of six AP courses in September.
The courses, which will be offered simultaneously with existing college or advanced courses, include AP Biology, AP Calculus, AP Computer Science, AP English Literature and Composition, AP United States History and AP World History.
"The opportunity this grant provides to Broadalbin-Perth students is incredible," Broadalbin-Perth Superintendent of Schools Stephen Tomlinson said in the press release. "Advance Placement is considered the gold standard by many of the top colleges and universities in the country. Now that we're able to offer AP courses again, we'll be giving our students a leg up in the college admissions process, as well as a chance to earn college credit while still in high school."
The program allows the district to offer tracks for both local/college credit and preparation for the AP exam to students in a single course. Students will be allowed to choose whether to take the traditional course or to prepare for the AP exam outside the classroom through a virtual curriculum. That curriculum will be designed by the district's virtual AP teachers.
According to the press release, the grant money will be used to fund professional development courses for teachers on both the AP curriculum and on teaching in a virtual environment.
The grant will also fund the purchase of laptops for students and teachers in the program, the installation of SmartBoards and wireless Internet access in each virtual classroom and the purchase of e-textbooks and other learning materials.
Grant funds will also be dedicated towards the creation of a virtual AP classroom, complete with wireless Internet access and traditional AP learning materials.
The virtual AP classroom will also feature a Cisco TelePresence system, which "will allow the district's virtual AP teachers to collaborate with educators in other districts interested in replicating Broadalbin-Perth's program and allow for the possibility of offering B-P's virtual AP courses to other school districts in the area through distance learning."
"We wanted to make sure that no student was left out of this program because of financial considerations," Tomlinson said. "Even if a family can't afford to provide high-speed Internet access at home, their child can still take a virtual AP course and complete their online work at school. We've even set aside grant funds to pay for all students' AP exam fees during the first year of the program."
With the Management Efficiency Competitive Grant funds, the district hopes to make a significant investment in its technology offerings.
According to a separate press release, the money will be used to purchase SmartBoards, tablets, laptops and a 3D projection system, used for the first-time in the high school last year.
Funds will also be set aside to pay for professional development programs designed to instruct teachers on the best use of the new technology in a classroom setting.
According to the state education department web site, the Management Efficiency Competitive Grant Program "supports investments in comprehensive and innovative strategies that lead to improved results for students, long-term gains in school and school system capacity and increased productivity and effectiveness."
According to the district's own press release, Broadalbin-Perth demonstrated a total of $584,257 in savings throughout the course of the 2009-2010 school year in its grant application to the state.
The application featured proven savings and improved efficiencies in the areas of transportation, energy and health insurance for employees and retirees.
The grant guidelines dictate that the district is restricted from spending any part of the award on recurring costs like salaries, benefits or basic operating expenses. Utilizing the funds for capital improvement projects is also prohibited.
"Grant funds cannot be used to offset the local tax levy," the press release reads. "They are earmarked for specific programs and services and must supplement, rather than supplant, regular district funding sources."
"We're choosing to invest this grant into technology and professional development because we believe they will have the most lasting impact on our students' achievement," said Tomlinson. "Without grant funds, this large of an investment in technology and related professional development would have been impossible."
According to the press release, Broadalbin-Perth was awarded a five-star rating from the Buffalo Business Journal in both cost-effectiveness and administrative efficiency in 2012, ranking 36th and 38th respectively out of 430 upstate school districts.
Also this year, the Albany Business Review ranked the district 81st out of 91 school districts in the Greater Capital Region in per-pupil spending.
Broadalbin-Perth also ranked seventh in the region, with a graduation rate of 91.5 percent in 2012.
"I really have to credit our leadership team and Board of Education for their shared vision and progressive leadership in pursuing these funding opportunities," Tomlinson said in the press release. "At a time when other school districts are being forced to cut Advanced Placement classes and technology budgets, these two grants will allow Broadalbin-Perth to provide more opportunities for our students."