Educators everywhere can learn a thing or two from the Middletown school district in Orange County. Last December, Middletown became the only district in New York State — indeed the only one in the Northeast, and one of only 16 nationwide — to win a federal “Race to the Top” district award.
“I was surprised, stunned really, and delighted when I heard the news,” says Middletown Enlarged City School District Superintendent Kenneth Eastwood. “It’s recognition for what we’ve been doing for the kids, and that we’re ready to move to the next level of assuring that all our students are college- and career-ready at graduation,” Eastwood said of the $19.9 million grant, which Middletown started receiving last month; disbursements will be spread out over four years.
Middletown was one of 400 districts nationwide and 35 in New York State competing for $400 million in total Race to the Top district funding; it even beat out the only other state finalist: New York City.
Officials plan to use the money to hire more staff; add programs (including a two-year kindergarten for kids not considered “kindergarten-ready”); offer free college courses for disadvantaged high school students; and purchase about 5,000 iPads for use in grades eight through 12.
Eastwood says awards like this help boost the options — and image — of public education. “The number of electives and additional programming for our kids these days is tremendous — not just here, but in many public schools. I call it the value-added element of public schooling. As an example, in some districts high school students can take actual college courses; as a parent who put two girls through private colleges, I know the savings from this in one year alone can be tremendous. Because my daughters took those courses, they ended up with the equivalent of a full year of college credit when they graduated from high school. It probably saved me $100,000 in college tuition. Those are just some of the advantages of public education, speaking in a dollars-and-cents way.”