How districts can prepare for successful grant applications
1. Know the grant field and make an annual grants calendar. Planning is easier when you know what is on the horizon with federal, state, and private grants. If you are starting fresh, hire a grant firm to do some prospecting or do it yourself through the Foundation Center.
2. Keep your district data current and accessible. If you can’t hire a data specialist or assign some data duties to a math-oriented staff member, hire an external firm annually. Data reveals challenges, successes, and nuggets of opportunity. Run all demographics – including English learners, students with disabilities, and foster youth – plus all grade levels, in all major courses and standardized test areas, for all schools, to identify patterns and know your kids and your programs. Gather qualitative data too, such as student, staff, and parent surveys.
3. Realize it will take 3-6 weeks of someone’s full-time effort to win a large grant. Whether you free up one or two faculty, ask a principal, or hire a consultant, your grant writer/project manager will need strong writing, research, data, and accounting capabilities.
4. Understand it’s a gamble – you won’t win every one, or even half, at the beginning. Focus on building program design pieces and local partnerships with universities, colleges, other districts, nonprofits, and professional development providers so you can reuse them in future opportunities. Hiring a professional can greatly increase your win rate.
5. Identify your district’s strengths, weaknesses, and characteristics (brand). Most district websites use the same words and have the same mission. What sets you apart? What makes your people special? What are they struggling against? What can they celebrate? Work on your weaknesses and spread praise for your successes.
6. Lay the groundwork for innovation in grant programs. Be innovative in embracing the future of work and school in your district. You can’t follow tradition and also be cutting-edge in applications. Visit exemplary schools. Make a strategic plan to drive your LCAP. Create site master schedules that support promising pilot programs. Provide teachers common planning/PLC time. Support that staff member who wants to try Project Based Learning or start a career pathway. A rule of thumb: Is it best for kids or convenient for adults?
7. Stay up to date on education trends and the latest research in education. Grants that embrace a trend at the beginning tend to fare well. Know emerging issues. Subscribe to EdWeek and Educational Leadership. Get free newsletters from EdSource and SmartBrief; visit websites like Californians Together.
8. Make it all about community. Involve students, faculty, parents, administrators, and partners from the beginning through surveys, focus groups, program design meetings, and one-to-one talks. This step will demonstrate commitment in your applications and greatly increase successes in actual implementation if you win.
Take these steps, and you will be well on your way to galvanizing positive transformation for your entire school community.