CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- In the past three years, Kanawha County has received nearly $4 million in federal stimulus money to help turn around its lowest-achieving schools. Now that the funding is drying up, school administrators are planning how to sustain the improvements they've made through the future, without the benefit of any extra money coming in.
Last school year, about $300,000 was spent among six of the county's schools on cutting-edge supplies to help students learn, and another $300,000 has gone to train teachers during conferences.
More than $730,000 paid salaries to recruit more teachers and "interventionists," who are aides meant to help boost achievement. That's about 40 percent of the county's total federal funding for the 2011-12 school year.
Since the stimulus money was awarded, nearly all participating schools have seen improvement in standardized state test scores and have met adequate yearly progress.
"We've been able to do a lot of things, as far as technology and materials, that we wouldn't have been able to have or do without the money," said Malden Elementary Principal Jenny Sayre. "It's also afforded us staff. That's the big thing: How do we continue next year when we don't have these positions?"
Sayre said that's been the main concern for her school from the very beginning of the process. That's why she and her staff have considered sustainability along the way through training sessions that focus on setting obtainable goals and evaluating weaknesses.
When the year ends, Malden Elementary will lose two interventionists who were paid through School Improvement Grant funds.
"Everyone is trying to learn what the others -- who will have to leave the school -- do so that we can continue those things," she said. "It's not like when they're gone we don't have to do that work anymore."
The SIG funds have provided the elementary school with interactive smart tables, laptops, iPads and cameras.
But there are benefits that don't require any money, Sayre said.
"We've learned how to increase student engagement and perform better class evaluations. We've really practiced all aspects of the training we've received so that we can do it on our own," she said. "That doesn't cost any money. That's something we can continue without worrying about funding."
Sacrifices were made in order to receive the money. Five Kanawha County principals had to resign in 2009 for schools to even be allowed to accept the funding, and administrators dealt with strictly regulated policies.
"It's been hard work," Sayre said, "but it's pushed us to do what's best for our kids' culture, and we now have a wonderful school."