Unite CEO Travis Smith questions CCSD decision to reject education grant

Published 8:30 am Saturday, August 19, 2023

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Unite CEO Travis Smith made claims last week that the Chambers County School District rejected a grant that would fund afterschool programs for students in the county without providing a reason. 

CCSD has responded by saying it didn’t pursue the grant due to a lack of participation in the district’s current afterschool programs.

Smith, who also works for Auburn University, and other Auburn Outreach staff, recently visited Circle of Care, Chambers County Community Health and Wellness Center and had a community hearing in LaFayette. 

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“We’ve been hearing parents and community members talk about the lack of afterschool opportunities,” Smith said.

Smith said the director of Auburn Outreach requested that Unite pursue the Century 21st grant for the Chambers County School District. 

Unite is a nonprofit organization that aids high school students with college preparatory resources and student development for students from historically Black colleges and universities (HBCU). Last year, Unite served as the district’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion consultant throughout the planning process of the new consolidated high school.

According to Smith, Unite has an internal grant writer and other resources to help administer the grant. 

The Nita M. Lowey 21st Century Community Learning Centers of Alabama (CCLC) is a U.S. Department of Education program administered to public education, community and faith-based organizations to provide expanded, afterschool learning opportunities for children. 

According to a press release from the Alabama Department of Education, the program can provide “those in some of Alabama’s most marginalized communities a chance to grow both academically and socially.” 

Unite met with Dr. Sheila Jones, Director of Elementary Education, about administering the grant. In January, Jones told Smith that the county already has a state-mandated afterschool literacy program.

Smith said he was not in contact with any other district staff and that Jones did not give a reason for the decision that the grant would not be pursued by the district. 

Jones provided a statement addressing her conversation with Smith via email to the VTN. 

At the time of our conversation, the grant was not open for receiving applicants, but he was awaiting the opening date,” Jones said. “I told him as much as our district appreciates partnerships, we would not be partnering with Unite at this time even though Auburn University is included.” 

Chambers County School District currently offers afterschool tutoring for grades K-5 and an Afterschool Science Club at J.P. Powell Middle School. Jones said the student participation for both programs was lower than expected.

“I shared that the range of students attending tutoring vs the percentage invited is around 60-70%. With both of the mentioned opportunities for children, our goal is increase,” Jones said in the email. “Therefore, I shared with Dr. Smith we want to increase participation in current opportunities before adding more.”

According to CCSD Superintendent Dr. Casey Chambley, the district was told that the opportunities provided by the grant would not be available to all students but only those from J.P. Powell and Eastside Elementary.

“Considering the resources and effort being placed on the afterschool programs already in place at ESE and JPP and not wanting to compete or take away from them, we decided to not move forward,” Chambley said in an email to the VTN.