By Amy Wenk

Eager to improve offerings despite a down economy, Dunwoody Springs Charter Elementary School will implement a grant-writing team this fall.

Schools secure their own grants, Principal Ivy Gainey said, but the work is typically completed by individual teachers or groups that get together for a special project.

“It is rather unique for schools to form a grant-writing committee,” said Gainey, who joined the Sandy Springs school on Roberts Drive last fall. “The need exists now more than ever as schools continue to strive to continually improve and provide the extras to enhance the quality of instruction for our children.”

The school is seeking charter renewal in the upcoming school year, and “we spent a great deal of time this year assessing our program to determine which components of our charter were most successful and what ideas we had for the renewal of our next five-year charter,” Gainey said.

“Charter schools like ours have our unique programs and approaches to teaching. Funding is made available at the outset of a conversion charter, but we want to maintain and continue to improve, which often requires additional funding.”

Grants would supplement instruction for gifted students by providing “more interactive, engaging learning opportunities,” as well as learning experiences like field trips and in-house presentations for all children.

Those experiences build background knowledge, provide a deeper level of understanding and produce children who have a desire to learn, Gainey said.

“We want to expose our children to as much of the world as possible,” she said. “As a Title I school, we are faced with some challenges, but the dedication of our incredible staff, the support of our PTA and our commitment to put students first will overcome any obstacles, including difficult economic times.”

She said technology needs require additional money. The elementary school is creating a science lab with an electronic Promethean whiteboard and an interactive classroom setup. In addition, the school is pursuing a grant from IBM to purchase digital computer microscopes.

Grant funds also could spur a parental involvement project. Full implementation, Gainey said, would probably come in 2010-11.

“Our school and PTA will also focus our efforts on community involvement, marketing our school and creating partnerships with local businesses,” she said.

The grant-writing team will consist of seven to 10 staffers, mainly teachers. The members may change depending on the grant or project.

“Many of our staff members have experience in grant writing, and they are willing to pool their expertise to tap those resources to ensure we are able to implement new improvement ideas,” Gainey said. “There’s definitely a ‘whatever it takes’ attitude among the staff here.”

One committee of grant writers has met several times this summer with a proposal writer and editor from Georgia State University to brainstorm ideas for the parental involvement project. The college offers the service because Dunwoody Springs is the state’s first Professional Development School.

That relationship enables Georgia State “to place many student teachers and interns in our school with our best teachers,” said Gainey, calling it a win-win partnership. “They get to learn from our teachers, and we get to select from their best candidates upon graduation.”

She said Georgia State will continue to assist the grant-writing committee.