July 30, 2013

SPARK Ohio expands its reach to four new sites

SPARK Ohio continues to expand its reach around the state by adding four new sites for the 2013-2014 school year, as well as being replicated in Franklin County. This fall, 16 Ohio school district neighborhoods in nine different counties will be working toward positive outcomes and smoother transitions into kindergarten as a result of SPARK.

Sandy Valley Local School District in Stark County, Logan Elm Local School District in Pickaway County, and a partnership between Franklin Monroe Local and Mississinawa Valley school districts in Darke County are the winners of grants of up to $125,000 each to bring SPARK to 100 families of preschool-age children. The districts’ elementary schools will also participate in Ready Schools efforts.

The Sustain in the Early Grades demonstration project will run through 2015. Throughout the life of the project, the state will study independent evaluation results and other measures to assess the project’s impact and scalability as it considers options for early education programming.

Funding for the grants was allocated from the State of Ohio’s Race to the Top—Early Learning Challenge grant. The Sisters of Charity Foundation of Canton, which is SPARK Ohio’s managing organization, will oversee and coordinate the project.

This help with—and funding for—kindergarten readiness will help teachers and administrators alike, considering the newly passed Third Grade Guarantee legislation that requires Ohio school districts to focus each year, from kindergarten through third grade, on making sure students are reading at grade level. Those who aren’t reading at grade level by the end of third grade, as indicated by their score on the Ohio Achievement Assessment in reading, risk being retained.

Since inception, SPARK has been operated by community nonprofit organizations working in close collaboration with local school districts. While the nonprofit-led model has worked well, SPARK will be led by the school districts themselves at these three new rural sites.

SPARK is also being replicated in Franklin County, where approximately 315 Columbus families will be served during the 2013-2014 school year. The governing board of Learn4Life, a collaborative organization focusing on “birth to career” educational support, has approved funding for the replication of SPARK within the Columbus City School District area.

Steve Votaw, Learn4Life’s executive director, said, “Columbus is very excited to become part of the SPARK Ohio community. As a new SPARK site, there is much work to be done and much to learn, but the motivation to be part of this opportunity is clear: our youngest learners deserve the opportunity to enter school ready to achieve. We are in the planning, professional development, and recruiting stage. We know that child and family success will come at the hands of the parent partners and our many community leaders, who serve as the backbone for community success. We are looking forward to working with the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Canton and other SPARK providers for guidance and wisdom.”

The Sisters of Charity Foundation of Canton is a ministry of the Sisters of Charity Health System.

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From its Cleveland headquarters, the Sisters of Charity Health System provides oversight, leadership and strategic direction to more than 20 organizations responding to community needs in Canton and Cleveland, Ohio, and South Carolina.

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