The F.W. Gross school campus will become an early childhood center within the next few years as part of a grant the Victoria school district was awarded, school district officials announced.

Superintendent Quintin Shepherd announced Friday afternoon at the Victoria school district convocation that the district was awarded two System of Great Schools grants.

“We have a pre-planning grant for $300,000 this year, and up to $2 million for the year after, and the year after, so that we can focus on early childhood and actually change the game of education,” Shepherd said as the audience stood to clap. “Let’s all celebrate what that might look like.”

The hundreds of VISD teachers and staff cheered Friday afternoon at Faith Family Church, as they learned the news of the grants and the future of the school district.

Carol Dippel, the early childhood coordinator, said the grant is exciting news for the district, students and parents.

“This is our window of opportunity to give 100% to create a foundation of success for our children,” Dippel said, smiling. “It’s amazing.”

One grant will go toward creating an early childhood center at the F.W. Gross School campus, and the other was awarded to O’Connor Elementary School to become a campus model of the district’s “framework for innovation and redefining excellence,” Shepherd said.

Each campus will receive about $300,000 for the 2019-2020 year for planning purposes, with the opportunity to receive $2 million a year for the next two years after the planning year.

The System of Great Schools is a network that supports Texas school districts in developing a locally designed process that involves the school, parents and neighborhoods.

The Victoria school district is one of fewer than 20 school districts in the state to be designated a System of Great Schools network, Shepherd said.

Through the System of Great Schools networks, designated campuses have access to millions of dollars in funds, he said.

Shepherd first mentioned the possibility of the district creating a early childhood center during a May meeting of the Victoria school board when he informed the trustees of the grant application.

The first year of the grant for the F.W. Gross campus will be for district officials to plan what is needed for an early childhood center, including staff, curriculum, resources and possibly renovations.

The campus will house children from prekindergarten to second grade in an effort to help children master basic numeracy and literacy, Shepherd said.

Susanne Carroll, the assistant superintendent of curriculum, instruction and accountability, said the early childhood grant will help students get a strong introduction into education.

She commended the curriculum and prekindergarten staff for the work they do for the district and on the road ahead to plan the center.

“It takes a whole team to make a child successful, and I know they (the prekindergarten and curriculum staff) will drive their passion for early childhood into the planning part of this grant,” Carroll said.

After the first year, the district could see millions of dollars in funding over the next few years.

The grant for O’Connor Elementary, also a planning grant, will help support the school with resources to help build a stronger campus through a districtwide strategy called the Framework for innovation and Redefining Excellence, or a “school on FIRE,” Shepherd said.

The grant will support the school with resources for local accountability model that will be created by the parents and community of the school, strategies for school improvement planning and designate a signature focus or program at the school.

Shepherd encouraged all campuses to start imagining what they would like their signature to be, such as having a technology-rich campus or having more project-based learning.

Tammy Sestak, the executive director of elementary curriculum, instruction and accountability, said the grants for both F.W. Gross and O’Connor schools are opportunities to take a deep look into learning options for parents and students. Sestak, who will help with the planning for both campuses, said she looks forward to hearing from parents and working with them to help take the schools to next level.

“It’s really time for us to explore all the options out there – it’s exciting,” Sestak said.

Teachers at O’Connor will also receive a stipend through the grant beginning the 2020-2021 school year.

Amber Aldaco reports on education for the Victoria Advocate. She may be reached at aaldaco@vicad.com or 361-580-6303.

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Education Reporter

Amber Aldaco is the education reporter at the Victoria Advocate. She's covered various events in the Crossroads including a zoo rescue, a biker funeral and a state meeting with the governor. She enjoys singing with her significant other.

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