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$100,000 Grants Initiative to Support Innovation in Local Schools

For Immediate Release

$100,000 Grants Initiative to Support Innovation in Local Schools

SOUTH BEND -- A new, privately funded program to encourage innovation in education among St. Joseph County schools was unveiled today (Tuesday, July 15, 2014) by Mary Jan Hedman, executive director of St. Joe Valley Metronet.

St. Joe Valley Metronet and nCloud have created the K-12 Fiber to Schools Grants Initiative to provide schools with broadband fiber optic infrastructure. To apply, schools must submit detailed proposals with measurable outcomes outlining how connectivity will be used to improve education. They also must show they have resources to implement the plans. Schools must be close enough to the Metronet fiber backbone to make extending a connection economically feasible.

Thirty-five public and private schools in St. Joseph County are suitably located.

The grants will pay for installation of underground conduit and fiber connecting each grant-winning school to Metronet’s existing fiber network. The school also will receive access to a Metronet circuit for three years at no cost.

Superintendents and representatives of area public schools were informed of the initiative during a meeting Friday.

Tom Cuggino, a consultant to Metronet and chairman of the committee that will review grant applications, said the purpose of the grants is twofold: to encourage schools to develop innovative approaches that will improve education outcomes; and to remove broadband capacity constraints that may hinder implementation of those approaches.

Metronet was created almost a decade ago as a public-private partnership to provide a dark fiber network that would support economic development and lessen burdens of government. The network now extends almost 100 miles through much of South Bend, Mishawaka and St. Joseph County and construction is under way of an expansion into Marshall County and Plymouth.

nCloud provides shared information technology services for nonprofit organizations. It was launched with support of the Community Foundation of St. Joseph County.

Metronet has set aside $100,000 in its 2014 budget for the grants program and expects to make similar commitments in subsequent years. Funding not awarded each year will be rolled over and available the following year.

Cuggino said qualifying for a grant will be difficult, but it is meant to be. “We are challenging schools to excel. Recipients must have specific and detailed plans to use connectivity to improve educational outcomes, demonstrate how those plans will be implemented, show how successes will be measured and accountability enforced, show that necessary training will be provided, that the staff is engaged and supportive, and that funding is available both to implement the program and to continue it over time.” 

Cuggino cites Mooresville, N.C., schools as a well-known example of how widespread broadband access can be used to improve educational outcomes. Despite being near the bottom in per-pupil funding, the graduation rate now is the second highest in North Carolina. Ninety-eight percent of African American students earn diplomas. Officials say interactivity helps students be more engaged, which means they are more likely to learn and to stay in school.

Innovative schools that improve performance will benefit local economic development in three ways, said Mary Jan Hedman, executive director of St. Joe Valley Metronet, in explaining why the grants initiative was created. A reputation and record of successful school improvement through innovation will help bring new residents and new investment to the area. Better-educated students make a more attractive workforce, and graduates are more likely to stay in a community that can provide them with good jobs and their children with a great education.

When constraints of connectivity are removed, schools are able to do more interactive education, such as using video links allowing outside experts to teach classes. Campuses can be connected to share resources. Teachers can monitor students in real time as they work on tests or homework. 

“We don’t have expectations of what schools will propose to do. We want them to be creative in how they will use the fiber. We want to remove the current barriers to innovation that are created by limited connectivity,” Cuggino said. “

Public, private, religious and charter schools with students from kindergarten to grade 12 are eligible.

Grant applications are available through St. Joe Valley Metronet. Call 574 968-5353 or e-mail for further information.


For further information:

Mary Jan Hedman

Executive Director

St. Joe Valley Metronet

574 968-5353


Tom Cuggino

Chairman, K-12 Fiber to Schools Grants Committee