Grant Guru Tip #8 by Gary Carnow: Building a Grant Team

This past week I have been playing around with some of the new features of Leopard and have been really amazed. This morning I went looking for a grant that I wrote in 1991 with a team from one of the high schools in my school district. I went into Spotlight – Spotlight searches filenames content and metadata to find virtually anything on your computer. I typed in the name of the high school and within less than twenty seconds I had found the grant. I didn’t remember much about the actual grant, I just remember how my grant team failed and how I promised myself I would never write a grant proposal that way again. Sixteen years and many grants later, I have kept to my promise.

This particular grant came at a time when multimedia was the new buzzword in educational technology. Many of our classrooms had computers connected to laser disc players and television sets. There were many commercial products available and every technology specialist I knew was deeply involved in multimedia curriculum development and how technology could enhance everyday classroom practice.

The grant-funding source was the State of California and the funds were available for schools based on average daily attendance. The school was eligible to receive close to $90,000 ($28 per student). The grant was simple enough. You were limited to a ten page narrative (double-spaced) that needed to include the following eight sections: a review of the site’s technology use plan, needs addressed, project description (overview, curriculum and instruction, staff development and learning resources), expected outcomes, activities, evaluation, project management, and budget narrative. It was the first time in several years that I had been able to find a funding source with an RFP that seemed doable for this large urban high school, where the student body was primarily poor, first-generation immigrants (42% Asian and 44% Hispanic). These students lacked the primary education, life experiences, and knowledge base that are vital for success in any American high school. I had a great idea, but I really wanted to involve the faculty in the grant preparation for project buy-in.

I met with the department chairs of this high school. Represented were English, English as a Second Language, math, social studies, science, visual and performing arts, and foreign language. Most of my personal teaching experiences had been in elementary schools where teaming and sharing were the norm. I was surprised at this high school, how the department walls were barriers for both students and staff. (I am happy to report in this day of professional learning communities this situation has changed). I presented my idea.

Technology was fairly prevalent in English/Journalism classes and a few other subject areas. Remember this was 1991, before the Internet and school-wide networks. My idea was to help students with traditional term paper projects, an essential task for success in the high school curriculum. Students in the project would create paperless electronic term papers. With the use of technology tools, multimedia equipment (computers and laserdisc players), along with group strategies, the paperless electronic term papers would provide a more relevant means for students with limited language skills to succeed in high school and prepare for higher education and the world of work.

Everyone in the room was excited. We looked at ways to involve as many teachers and students possible with the budgetary constraints. We came up with the idea of thirty self-selected teachers to form ten support triads. These triads would receive initial training in cooperative learning, relevant technology and multimedia tools and a review of the State curriculum frameworks. This was an ambitious plan.

The grant was due in several weeks. The RFP was long and wordy, however the basic outline was buried within the directions. The English department wanted to write the narrative, social studies the evaluation, math the budget, and so on. Times to meet and collaborate were established. Two days before submission, the grant writing team handed me their completed proposal. Several people wrote the proposal and it showed. It was a mess. The needs didn’t match the outcomes, the activities made sense, however, they didn’t fit with the other parts of the narrative. It was clear to me that grant writing by committee didn’t work. The proposal was not accepted for funding.

The following year the funding was available again. This time we did things differently. I volunteered to write the proposal but all participating stakeholders committed to meeting with me weekly. The first time we met we discussed the overall project and each week for the next five weeks the team members provided me with feedback to the various drafts. The final proposal read as one voice and held together well. The grant was funded. When we implemented the grant, the team had buy-in and understanding. Our student’s created wonderful projects and our teachers learned with our students how to use the technology to enhance classroom practice.

Gathering your grant team is essential. Include all stakeholders – fellow teachers, site administrators, a technology specialist, a parent, a student and others. Find a time when everyone can attend and give out copies of the RFP. Determine when the grant is due and plan backward from the deadline. Schedule enough time to write, review several drafts and to fill out any required forms. Look for signature pages and determine who must sign. Some Boards of Education require approval before you submit a proposal and that will present its own set of internal deadlines. Some proposals require support letters and other attachments. Allow enough time to copy, collate and send the proposal. As a grant facilitator, as a group, schedule the meeting dates, describe the activities to be accomplished and assign responsibilities. Provide each team member with a copy of your task chart.

Dr. Gary A. Carnow serves as the Director of Technology and Information Services for the Alhambra Unified School District. Dr. Carnow is the co-author of two software products published by Knowledge Adventure. He is also the co-author of three books, Prolific Thinkers (1986, Dale Seymour Publications), Software-in-a-Book: The Cruncher (2001, Teacher Created Materials), and Software-in-a-Book: KidWorks Deluxe (2001, Teacher Created Materials). He has authored numerous publications and learning resources for Apple, IBM, Scholastic, and others.