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Gates funds schools

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By Jennifer Whytock

RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina will test whether smaller high schools improve student performance, thanks to a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in Seattle.

The goal is to create smaller schools that give students more personal attention, more demanding studies and better workplace knowledge and skills.

The New High School Project is a $30 million initiative to create or redesign 40 high schools throughout the state in the next five years.

Executive director of the new project will be Tony Habit, president of the Wake Education Partnership and founding executive director of the Durham Public Education Network, who will begin his new job Nov. 1.

“The $11 million from Gates is the first grant, and we are going to then find the additional money from other foundation sources, corporate sources, and also public sources which could include reallocated federal dollars as well as some potential state funding,” says J.B. Buxton, education advisor to Gov. Mike Easley. “Gates also suggested that they may come in for an additional grant.”

Habit says the Gates Foundation has indicated it might provide a matching grant of roughly $10 million, depending on additional local support and partnerships, and also might give additional funds.

Nearly six weeks ago, leaders of the high school project met with 40 local corporate and private foundations, a meeting that generated more grant commitments, says John Dornan, president and executive director of the Raleigh-based Public School Forum of North Carolina, which will manage the project.

For instance, says Dornan, the Mebane Foundation in Mocksville recently made a $750,000 challenge grant to Davie County High School for technology to better train students for the workplace.

The Public School Forum plans to announce in two weeks two program officers to help run the project.

And Habit says a series of project consultants will provide support for local teams, which will compete for planning grants and, if the local proposals are accepted, grants to put the local projects into effect.

The project will be overseen by the North Carolina Education Cabinet, which was created by former Gov. Jim Hunt and now is chaired by Easley, and includes presidents of the state university, community college and private college systems, the state superintendent of public instruction and the chairman of the State Board of Education.

The $11 million grant from the Gates Foundation is part of over $500 million it has given to more than 1,500 small high schools throughout the U.S. to improve high school and college graduation rates.

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