Technology Funding | Tips

Grant Writing as a Team Effort

An experienced and successful K-12 grant writer shares her advice on how to jump through the hoops to get to the successful awards.

Brooke Young knows a thing or two about how to write a successful grant. As grants coordinator for the Aurora City School District in Aurora, IL., she's spearheaded a number of successful awards over the last few years. In doing so, Young has learned the ins and out of the K-12 grant process and gained experience with both private and public funding.

Winning Grants: Tip 1
Be willing to change, expand, innovate, and enlarge your vision. You don't get grants to do what you already are doing. Funders want to invest in creative approaches. They want to help you change what you're doing so you will improve student outcomes, measurably, by the time funding ends.

Aurora City SD's Grant Successes
Situated about 45 miles west of Chicago, the 14,000-student Aurora City School District has snagged several school improvement grants ranging from $160,000 to $330,000 per year. The grants recently became "more restrictive," according to Young, and now require that the recipients use one of four mandated Title I "school turnaround" models. In prior years, however, the school improvement grants "allowed applicants broad discretion to develop projects tailored to advance their School Improvement Plans," said Young.

With the grants, the district purchased a variety of new technology, including Ellis Essentials (reading software intervention programs for ELL students); Making the Grade (an English-Spanish translator for parent communication); Smart boards and related peripherals; and "hundreds of books on MP3s," said Young. "Several schools also purchased new reading assessment systems, advanced reading pens, and visual presenters."

Winning Grants: Tip 2
Be prepared to manage the project effectively. This is important for the success of the project, and it allows you to maintain and strengthen the relationship with the funder and win future grants.

The district has also won several non-technology-related grants, including the United States Department of Education's Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools, for the development of a new district-wide, multi-hazard emergency plan tailored to individual school buildings; and Smaller Learning Communities, a high school reform grant based on the "small schools" concept (personalizing the learning environment and supporting students who struggle academically in reading and math).

Next on Young's agenda: an application for a "Race to the Top" grant being offered by the state of Illinois, which will offer $200 million in competitive grants to school districts in the fall of 2010. Young said Aurora City School District's application may include the use of TelePresence to improve science and math instruction. "It would be one part of a strategy to make science and math instruction more participatory and inquiry-based, especially in elementary and middle schools," said Young.

"TelePresence is like videoconferencing on steroids," she continued. "It would bring STEM professionals from business and industry into our classrooms, virtually, to work with students on real-world problems using science and math. It would enhance our curriculum and our instructional delivery."

Winning Grants: Tip 3
Before you apply, ensure you are prepared to manage both the programmatic and fiscal requirements of large grants. It's easy, when you're dazzled by dollars, to bite off more than you can chew. A grant is a contractual agreement between you and the funder.

Tips for Successful Education Grant Writing
Looking back on her district's winning grant track record, Young said the secret to its success lies in choosing the right opportunity, getting the appropriate people to the project development table and starting the process early. "It takes about three months to plan a project that's worthy of federal grant funding," said Young. "Grants that require multiple external partners or extensive needs assessments take longer."

When applying for grants, she said, Young is careful to select grants that are the best fit for specific projects and is sure to include a "level of specificity and detail in their proposals the potential grantors expect," said Young. For example, a good needs statement requires a thorough needs analysis that supports their applicant's claims with data and facts.

"A good project plan requires more detail and specificity than most applicants realize," said Young. "Ask yourself, 'How will the project really unfold in our school? What will it look like? Who will do what, when and how?' These are the questions I challenge our teams to drill down, think through, and answer."

Winning Grants: Tip 4
Hire a great grant writer. This person should not only be a researcher/writer but also a small group facilitator, good project planner, and excellent communicator who is an analytical, logical thinker. Look for a resourceful, high-energy person who's a very hard worker.

Young cautioned against going after grants for the sake of beefing up the district's budget. "Don't just chase the money," she added. "Make sure the opportunity aligns with your strategic plan and priorities--consider the things you would do without grant money, if you could. "

Also realize that developing a viable proposal, like developing any effective project, takes teamwork, said Young. "No one is going to swoop in and do it for you," she said. In addition to a good grant writer, for example, districts also need content experts (those who understand your students' and teachers' wants and needs), decision makers (individuals who know how to make the project work in the district and who can authorize the project), and even external partners, when necessary.

"Grant writing is a team sport," said Young. "You really have to rally the troops and get everyone involved in the initiative."

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