Two Palestine schools with low teacher salaries and predominant shares of low-income students – Southside Elementary and A.M. Story Intermediate – will receive $300,000 each from the School Transformation Fund of the Texas Education Agency. The state grants aim to improve student academic support over the next two years.

The two Palestine ISD schools are among just 30 schools in Texas to receive the TEA grants, which will be dispersed through July 2020.

The grants allow the two campuses a range of options to close in student learning gaps. Both campuses will have the option to add one or two full-time positions, contracting with specialists for services, and provide rigorous training for specific teaching strategies.

“We have students with a range of needs who require a variety of services,” said Larissa Loveless, spokesperson for the Palestine schools. “The grant will allow us to target instruction to close performance gaps.”

At Southside Elementary, economically disadvantaged students make up nearly 80 percent of the total; at A.M. Story Intermediate, the share is 81 percent. Children from economically-disadvantaged households have fewer resources to support student learning, a factor that places the students at risk.

The grant will also enable both schools to address the needs of English Language Learners. At Southside Elementary, 25 percent are ELLs; at A.M. Story, the rate is 22 percent.

At Southside Elementary, nearly a third of teachers are beginners with less than five years experience, and their average salary of $43,135, compared to $52,525 statewide, lends to a high rate of teacher turnover. At A.M. Story Intermediate, 52 percent of teachers have five years of experience or less; their average pay is $33,492, compared to $47,489 throughout the state for teachers with similar experience.

Palestine ISD superintendent Jason Marshall credited the district's Curriculum and Instruction Department for securing the grants.  

With money already received from the Texas Afterschool Centers on Education (TACE) grant, the Palestine ISD will receive $1.6 million through TEA grants.