Kent’s Race to the Top funds equate with high poverty rate

Joey Pompignano

Kent City Schools will receive more federal grant money under the Race to the Top plan than any other district in Portage County because of its high poverty rate.

Superintendent Joe Giancola said the $435,256 for Kent, which will be applied over the next four years, starting in 2011, focuses on improving achievement gaps for students testing in all subject areas.

“I’m looking forward to the school year and working with our teachers, trying to always look at our instruction and how it ties in to the state testing system,” Giancola said.

The Ohio Department of Education reported that Kent did not meet the 75 percent testing standard in mathematics for grades 5, 7 and 8. He said that funds will go toward reaching adequate yearly progress, especially in reading and mathematics.

Aurora City Schools were awarded $100,000 and the Field Academy of Creative Arts $25,000, respectively. Giancola said the reason Kent received a substantial amount more than their Portage County counterparts is based on the percentage of students eligible for free and reduced lunches.

A household of two is considered below the poverty line if it makes no more than $14,570 per year, according to Ohio’s federal poverty guidelines.

More than 1,300 of Kent schools’ 3,835 student population in 2009 qualified for free and reduced lunches, according to, a website that ranks the quality of schools. In both Davey and Holden Elementary Schools, more than half the students fit this economically disadvantaged category.

By comparison, fewer than 10 percent of students qualified for the school lunch program in three out of four Aurora City Schools.

Jennifer Cline, a Pan-African studies major at Kent State, is the mother of Holden Elementary School third-grader Taleah Cline.

Though Holden has the highest percentage of students eligible for free and reduced lunches at 57 percent (140 students), Cline said Taleah has had a great experience in Kent schools.

Kent City Schools 2009 Poverty Rate

View Kent City Schools 2009 Poverty Rate in a larger map

Cline said she hoped some of the money from Race to the Top will go toward combining the arts into the curriculum more. She said she’s disappointed that band isn’t offered at Taleah’s grade level.

Though Cline said her “income is not really economically feasible to be consistent with paying for lessons,” she’s taking it upon herself to make sure Taleah gets a well-rounded education.

Aurora City Schools 2009 Poverty Rate

View Aurora City Schools 2009 Poverty Rate in a larger map

“Everyone learns differently, and for some kids that kind of stuff is really stimulating,” Cline said. “We can incorporate drawing and painting into other aspects of learning, like history, mathematics and science, in ways that I think the connections aren’t being drawn as they could be.”

Giancola said Race to the Top funds aim to adopt new standards for what concepts should be taught at each grade level, creating data systems that measure and track student growth one student at a time and retaining and hiring the best teachers for the job.

Only half of teachers in Kent’s high poverty schools have a master’s degree while 65 percent have a master’s degree overall, according to a 2009 report.

“This is an exciting time to be in public education and to be getting some of this federal money to make these changes that could be good for our students,” Giancola said.

To read more on this topic, check out Unemployment rates decreasing as economy makes a comeback, Recession over and economy slowly rising and Video: Kent Social Services.

Contact Joey Pompignano at [email protected].