Grant writers and education leaders met in New Orleans February 8 and 9 to explore the strategies, skills, and tools necessary to write successful proposals and win a chunk of the $30 billion available in school technology grants. The occasion was the eSchool News Grants and Funding for School Technology conference, a semi-annual meeting that has become the signature event in school technology fund-raising.

During 16 informative sessions organized into two tracks, the experts generally agreed: To land top dollars for your school programs, you’ll need to have a solid technology plan, include strategies for evaluation and professional development, explore several options for partnering, and–above all–don’t get discouraged.

The conference was kicked off with a keynote address by Tom Fitzgerald, vice president of education sales for Gateway Inc. Addressing the theme of using partnerships to leverage grant money, Fitzgerald identified three steps to securing funding.

“First, there must be a definite technology plan,” he said. “The plan must contain goals, strategies, professional development, budgeting requirements,an evaluation process, and partner benefits.”

Second, Fitzgerald explained that districts need to form partnerships that are “mutually reciprocal and benefit all parties.” He urged attendees to approach organizations that “have a vested interest in the success of your schools’ technology initiatives.”

Finally, Fitzgerald urged educators to try securing grants through a variety of different programs, particularly those supplied by the federal government.

“I’m personally encouraged because I don’t think we’ve ever seen the level of funding we’re seeing today,” he said, citing programs such as the Quality Zone Academy Bonds (QZABs), funded at $1.2 billion; the eRate, funded at $2.25 billion; and the $1.1 billion Perkins Act for vocational education projects.

Fitzgerald also highlighted the Gateway Foundation’s Teach America! program, which is expected to give out $7.6 million over five years to train 75,000 teachers in the use of technology. More information on this program can be found at www.gateway.com/teachamerica.

Attendees then split up to attend informative sessions in one of two tracks, “Tools and Techniques” or “Contacts and Case Studies.”

In a session titled “Funding Toolkit: The Art of Collaboration,” Sandy Paben, director of education for NY Wired, shared her years of experience writing, receiving, and implementing school technology grants, as well as finding the right partners for successful collaborations.

“What can a partnership look like?” Paben asked the crowd. “Many people think only of cash, but it can take the form of labor, time, and other kinds of support.”

Paben urged attendees to ask themselves, “What can I bring to them?” when approaching a potential partner. “One thing is exposure,” she answered. She suggested that you work with your partners to produce monthly public relations packets featuring successful school activities.

“That way, whenever a news organization has a slow news day, it’s you stuff that gets on the news or in the paper,” she said.

But partnerships are not always easy, Paben warned. “Managing partnerships can be a long and tedious job, because everybody has to be made to feel important,” she said. “People don’t need a lot. Just a thank-you note, or some small token to acknowledge that they took time out of their busy lives to help out your school.”

In “How to Pass a Bond Issue,” Genesee (Mich.) Intermediate School District’s Beverly Knox-Pipes, director of technology and media services, and Superintendent Thomas Svitkovich discussed how they got a bond issue passed that allowed them to bring their district into the 21st century.

In forming the Genesee Network for Education Telecommunications (GenNET) project, Knox-Pipes said, “We really tried to see through the idea of a connected community, and we focused on the kids. … You have to ‘sell the sizzle.'”

Svitkovich agreed that salesmanship is one of the keys to passing a bond issue in a school district. “If you get into this process without the unanimous support of the school board, your bond issue is going to fail.,” he said.

Svitkovich also encouraged school fund-raisers to start building support prior to the announcement of the bond issue, to ensure a broad base of support.

In a well-attended session called “Approaching Grantgivers: What Sells,” Sheryl Abshire, technology coordinator at Louisiana’s Calcasieu Parish Schools, and Deborah Ward, grant-writing consultant and STFB columnist, offered detailed, hands-on tips gleaned from years of writing and winning grants.

“You have to understand that going after dollars from foundations and corporations is a different game than getting state and federal grants,” said Ward. “I’d say the main difference is that foundations and corporations are more people-centered. When was the last time you had to take federal funders on a tour of your district before they gave you money?”

Ward also emphasized the importance of being aggressive in pursuit of grants, without being pushy.

“You have to be willing to pick up the phone and call a corporation or a foundation and talk to a complete stranger,” she said. “And don’t be afraid to talk to other grantees. Ask them for a copy of that winning proposal.”

In “Integrating Content and Professional Development to Win a Technology Literacy Challenge Grant,” Dennis Harper, founder of Generation Yes, and Sharon McIntosh, education specialist for bigchalk.com, emphasized the importance of a quality teacher training component in grant-seeking.

According to McIntosh, “Teachers’ major problem these days is time. If you can convince [grantors] that using technology is faster in the long run, they’ll be willing to get behind you on projects [that] adopt new technologies.”

Wrapping up Day One was Deborah Ward’s popular two-part series, “Crafting the Winning Grant Proposal”–a hands-on approach to the elusive art of writing a clear and successful grant proposal.

Among other tips, Ward underscored the importance of creating collaborative agreements that define what is expected of partnerships.

“I’d encourage you to design a collaborative agreement even if [it’s] not required, because that way you have a document that helps you hold your partners accountable for what they said they would do,” she said.

“You have to make your grant proposal as reader-friendly as possible,” she added. “I suggest using sub-headings, bullets, and charts if you have the room to do so.”

Day Two

Day Two of the conference opened with a keynote address by Cheryl Lemke, chief executive of consulting firm The Metiri Group and former director of the Milken Exchange on Education Technology.

In a presentation called “Different World, Different Schools,” Lemke urged attendees to ask themselves several questions in their attempt to secure technology dollars: “First, what value would this technology bring to schools? And second, will we know it when we see it?”

In addition to an assessment component, Lemke also advocated increased research on the impact of technology in your district.

“Why does technology work in some schools and not in others?” she asked. “And, finally, how do we report progress back to the decision-makers?”

These questions are imperative to implementing any technology initiative, Lemke explained. “We want kids to live, learn, and work in the digital age, but we need 21st-century skills overlaying the standards component,” she said.

In “Building Public/Private Strategic Alliances,” Darla Strouse, director of partnerships for the Maryland Department of Education, cited the partnership her office forged with Comcast Cable to bring free cable internet access to the state’s schools as an example of the type of successful collaboration that is possible.

The eSchool News Grants and Funding for School Technology conference was co-sponsored by Palm Inc., Enterprises Computing Services Inc., and Creative Presentations Inc. The next conference is scheduled for September 27-28 in Chicago.

Links:

Grants and Funding for School Technology conference
http://www.eschoolnews.com/gf