Race to the Top goals set the bar high, Federal Way leading the charge

Federal Way Public Schools - Courtesy Federal Way Public Schools
Federal Way Public Schools
— image credit: Courtesy Federal Way Public Schools

The Federal Way Public Schools (FWPS) board of directors heard an update on the federally funded Race to the Top program during the board’s Dec. 10 meeting.

Race to the Top awarded $40 million over four years to FWPS and the six other districts that make up the consortium known as the Roadmap Project (RMP).

Executive program director for Race to the Top Jessica de Barros said this has allowed the consortium to set the bar high.

“We have a lot of ambitious targets,” de Barros said. “For kindergarten readiness, we want 80 percent of students to be ready for kindergarten by 2016. We want 86 percent of our third grade readers to be proficient in reading, and we are seeking to reduce the opportunity gaps in half. We have a focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). Our goals for that, is for fourth graders to be proficient at 80 percent. For 68 percent of students to be proficient in science and to double the students taking algebra or higher in the eighth grade, as well as reducing the math gaps in half.”

She noted that at the high school level, the consortium is aiming at increasing graduation rates significantly, setting a bar of 87 percent by 2016. Another goal is to increase college enrollments to 71 percent, and to reduce remediation rates of students who do go to college, from 52 percent to 37 percent.

The consortium is attempting to achieve those goals through a variety of methods. For the preschool to third grade program, de Barros said the RMP is “looking to have every district create a preschool through third grade system that’s aligned.” For the STEM goals, de Barros noted that the consortium is “actually providing digital learning tools focused on science and math in elementary and middle schools across the region.”

Finally, the RMP pulled a page from FWPS’ playbook when it comes to college board assessments. Last year, FWPS offered any of the recognized college placement exams for free to students, and also allowed the exams to be taken during the school day.

“Across the region, all eighth graders are taking Ready Step, 10th graders are taking the PSAT, and 11th graders are taking the SAT during the school day. We’re really pleased that Race to the Top can provide for that and eliminate a barrier to college,” she said.

The key to the RMP and the use of the Race to the Top funds to achieve it’s goals is in a “shared learning” model, according to de Barros.

“Each of the seven districts, including Federal Way, are working with one another to learn,” she said. “For example, Federal Way is a leader in college and career readiness, so many of the strategies that Federal Way has been using for several years, we’re looking to expand into the other districts in our consortium.”

As already mentioned, FWPS leads the way for college and career readiness. This fact allowed the RMP to signify FWPS’ college and career readiness programs as “best practices” for the Race to the Top application.

“As part of Race to the Top, the Puget Sound Education Service District is actually contracting with Federal Way Public Schools to provide technical assistance to the other districts,” de Barros said.

FWPS has received approximately $632,000 so far from the Race to the Top grant funding, putting that money towards professional development of teachers and continuing to expand its college readiness programs.

“It’s been really exciting to see Federal Way take that strategy to the next level,” de Barros said.

The RMP plans to also use the Race to the Top funds to create a career exploration portal, “to connect students to internships and explore what interests them.” There are also plans for a separate data portal “to combat learning loss associated with student mobility.”

She indicated that there will be continuing rounds of funding for the next few years, as the consortium continues to move towards its ambitious goals.

Superintendent Rob Neu said the RMP deserves to be recognized for the work that’s gone on in just a year.

“The work that you’ve done, particularly at the ESD, is to be commended, especially that first year, getting roadblocks and barriers out and paving the way for the work moving forward,” he said.

To learn more about the RMP, visit For more information on Race to the Top, visit


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