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Education Secretary Touts School Principles

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is surrounded by students from Doswell E. Brooks Elementary School in Capitol Heights. Prince George's County Interim Superintendent William Hite Jr. is in the back at left. (CNS photo by Maren Wright)

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By Maren Wright
Capital News Service
Wednesday, April 1, 2009

CAPITOL HEIGHTS, Md. - Secretary of Education Arne Duncan selected an unassuming but award-winning school to emphasize ideas over dollars in announcing the first release of $44 billion in stimulus education funds Wednesday.

It has not been dollars that have set apart Doswell E. Brooks Elementary as a 2009 Distinguished Title I School. Title I is the part of federal education law that refers to equal, quality education for the disadvantaged.

"It's good old hard work, and everyone working together," said Principal Anita Stoddard.

Stoddard has been at the school for four years and students report it is an entirely different place. New decorations, new teachers, new desks and a new playground are just a few of the changes students mentioned.

"You can walk into a school and within 60 seconds tell this is a school of high expectations," Duncan told students as he visited classrooms after his announcement.

The exterior, of stained bricks and weed-filled lawns, belies the stimulating educational environment inside with carefully tended classrooms, books, technologies and engaged students in casual uniforms.

Duncan said he hopes the stimulus money will be used to promote "best practices" that move the country from small pockets of excellence to whole systems of excellence.

Duncan's announcement comes just six weeks after President Obama signed the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

More than $133 billion of the stimulus money was designated for education.

Maryland is set to receive $1.25 billion in education stimulus funds, said Maryland State Department of Education spokesman Bill Reinhard.

In addition, State Superintendant of Schools Nancy Grasmick announced a $6.5 million grant from the Education Department to create data systems that can track student achievement throughout the educational system.

Grasmick, Gov. Martin O'Malley and Rep. Donna Edwards, D-Fort Washington, were on hand to welcome Duncan to the Maryland school.

"This is a historic opportunity to lay the foundation for a generation of education reform even as this money helps save and create hundreds of thousands of teaching jobs in the short term -- including classroom jobs right here in Prince George's County," Duncan said.

Stimulus funds in Prince George's County schools have not yet been directed to reforms or improvements, but have been used to prevent employee furloughs and save 300 jobs.

William Hite Jr., interim superintendent of Prince George's County Public Schools, isn't content to leave it at that.

"Part of what this opportunity provides us with is a chance to look at new and different ways to do our work," Hite said. "We need to be a lot more efficient and a lot more effective."

Initial funding will be distributed immediately based on a formula, Duncan said, but states will have to show plans, maintain budgets and make progress to attract further disbursements. A "race to the top" fund will award stimulus money on a competitive basis to schools that demonstrate the fastest and broadest reforms.

Hite said Prince George's County will compete for those funds.

"As we look at the race-to-the-top fund, that is where we are going to be able to do more," Hite said.

Before leaving, Duncan reminded students that they get just one chance at a great education, so he asked the students in Winfred Will's fifth-grade class what they believe makes a great school.

Students called out their answers, "a good principal," "good teachers," "books," and "smart students."

"If we can do all the things you said -- if we can get great teachers in every classroom, great principals in every school, great books and great technology," Duncan agreed, "then I could go to the Bahamas."

Copyright 2009 University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism

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