By Mike LaBella
---- — HAVERHILL — Haverhill schools are hitting the jackpot when it comes to grant money from the state — getting $7 million last year and $270,000 last month alone.
School officials said the cash gives Haverhill ways to help students that the city otherwise could not afford.
The city will use some of the money to create a special summer school. It will teach English to students from homes where English is not the primary language.
Some of the grant money is paying for after-school classes, where students can sharpen up their skills in math and other subjects.
Grant money will also allow Haverhill High to create a Career Academy, where students will focus on studies that can lead to careers in business, technology, science and math. Those studies prepare students for careers such as contracting, architectural work, hair styling, engineering, X-ray technician work and computer programming.
In the last 18 months, Haverhill schools have received several so-called competitive grants, or those that require a district to apply, explain the need for the money and show how it will be used.
Officials said the money is funneling into Haverhill schools thanks to the aggressive work of a team of school employees dedicated to seeking grants.
In February, Haverhill received $270,000 in competitive grants, including two Gateway Cities grants worth a total of $240,000 — the most awarded to any community that applied.
Recently, two of the grants that Assistant Superintendent Mary Malone and her team applied for came through: The Gateway Cities grant designed to help English Language Learners bridge the achievement gap and a Career Academies grant.
“The Gateway Cities grant is a very competitive grant and I’m pleased that Mary has been able to get this money for us,” Superintendent James Scully said. “Haverhill hasn’t been able to get these funds before.”
The $195,000 Gateway Cities English Language Learners grant will allow for the creation of an intensive program, especially for students that come from homes where English is not the primary language. It will run for five weeks in the summer. Children in grades six through 12 will attend the program at Haverhill High, with transportation provided.
One of the most important aspects of academic success is the ability to speak and write English well, Malone said.
The $45,000 Career Academies grant will help Haverhill High School refine its academy system, especially in the areas of Ebit (Business and Technology) and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). These two career academies span the job market, preparing students for diverse careers.
“This grant will allow HHS to re-align our curriculum to include 21st century skills, as well as design and create strong partnerships between HHS, higher education, and local industry, which will promote readiness for college and careers,” Malone said.
The Career Academy will be established in the fall.
The long-term goal of the career academies is to keep at-risk students from dropping out of high school and create career paths for students whether they choose to enter the work force or go on to college.
If they see the opportunity of a lifelong career that doesn’t require four or more years of college, there is more likelihood that they will stay in school to learn the skills they need to support themselves and their families, Malone said.
Haverhill was the only city to receive a new Career Academies grant this year. School officials hope to apply for a continuation grant for the program next year.
Just weeks earlier, Haverhill got word that it will receive a $30,000 Innovation Schools Enhancement and Sustainability grant that Malone and Tilton School Principal Mary Beth Maranto applied for. Also a competitive grant, it will help train Tilton staff in specific aspects of teaching in an Innovation School, a designation that Tilton won last year through the efforts of Malone and Maranto.
“This grant will help Tilton to continue training its staff and deepening their skills and expertise in effective instructional practices,” Malone said.
This year, Haverhill received $1.6 million in Title 1 funds, which are apportioned on the basis of the percentage of students in a school whose family income levels qualify them for free or reduced-price lunches.
In many school districts, such applications are made by grant writers or Title 1 directors. Scully said that in Haverhill, Malone oversees the grant-finding and -writing process as well as Title 1, the largest grant program in the district.
“She works with teachers and administrators, she gets the right people needed to apply for each grant and she doesn’t just write it, she’s excellent at follow through,” Scully said about Malone. “She has that unique skill to link the intention of the grant to its recipients.”
Malone pointed out that some of the traditional need-based grant programs from the state and federal governments have shrunk in recent years, making it more important than ever to be successful in seeking competitive grants and receiving awards.
Malone said the key to winning a grant is to write a “good, solid proposal that will receive high ratings.”
“It is also important to apply for the right kinds of grants,” Scully said, noting that not only has Haverhill’s grant money increased as a result of Malone’s efforts, but that the money is now going directly to student services.
“The district’s increasing standardized test scores illustrate that the money is having a direct impact on student achievement,” Scully said.