WINCHESTER — A $7.8 million federal taxpayer grant awarded to Winchester Public Schools is the largest the school division has ever received.

It’s designed to improve teacher and student performance through better recruitment and retainment of staff and allow for more diverse hiring. Winchester is one of just 22 school divisions in the nation to be awarded the three-year grant from the U.S. Department of Education. The grant, awarded last month, covers the 390 teachers, seven principals and 12 assistant principals in the seven-school division.

The lack of affordable housing in Winchester and higher salaries at nearby Loudoun County Schools have made it hard for WPS to recruit and retain teachers. The grant may make it easier.

The money will pay for performance bonuses, as well as to hire a “beginning teacher specialist” to train 21 in-house mentors per year for teachers. Each mentor will receive $3,000 annually.

It will also pay $5,000 individual bonuses to hire 10 teachers annually who instruct in hard-to-staff subjects such as special education or Career and Technical Education. And it will pay for hiring a diversity recruitment specialist and for more diversity recruitment trips.

The district is seeking to hire more minority teachers to better reflect its student makeup. Of the 4,300 students in the division, 41% are Hispanic, 38% are white, and 11 % are Black. However, about 84% of administrators and teachers are white.

V. Douglas Joyner, division human resources director, told Winchester School Board members at their Monday meeting that the grant will allow the division to improve the mentoring of teachers in their first three years on the job. The ultimate goal of the grant is to have the best beginning-teacher growth and mentoring program in Virginia.

“It’s what you do with them when you have them and how you grow the way they function in the division,” he said. “And how do you raise student growth and academic achievement and close achievement gaps.”

Grant implementation will be done with several partners. They include Shenandoah University, Top of Virginia Regional Chamber, the Virginia Department of Education’s Office of Equity and Community Engagement, and Virginia State University. The latter is one of the 107 Historically Black Colleges and Universities identified by the the U.S. DOE. While working with Virginia State, Joyner stressed the goal is to recruit from colleges statewide.

The grant also pays stipends for more substitute teachers allowing more training of regular teachers outside the classroom.

“You’ve got to give people time. There can’t be just one-shot (training) days where they get the information and go back into the classroom,” Joyner said. “You have to impact what happens to them on a daily basis in their classrooms.”

Superintendent Jason Van Heukelum said the grant will also increase opportunities for teachers to eventually switch to jobs outside the classroom such as becoming an administrator or instructional coach. He said younger people are less likely to want to stay in the same job their entire career.

“It’s got a lot of moving parts,” Van Heukelum said of the grant. “But we’re very excited about the opportunities that it’s going to bring to our school division.”

— Contact Evan Goodenow at egoodenow@winchesterstar.com

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