School officials to beef up grant effort



September 22, 2011 - 12:00 AM

The three Allen County school districts teaming up to compete in U.S. Cellular’s Calling All Communities challenge — an online voting contest to give a total of $1 million to 18 schools — are ramping up their get-out-the-vote efforts.
After sliding from 13th place to 19th place during the last week, as reported in Wednesday’s Iola Register, administrators from USD 256 and 257, Thrive Allen County’s David Toland and U.S. Cellular’s Iola representative Misty Stiffler met Wednesday at the Thrive office to discuss ways to get more people voting in the online competition, which will donate $150,000 to the top vote-getter and another $50,000 to another 17 schools. Representatives from USD 258 were unable to attend.
Those wanting to vote for their favorite school must first visit a U.S. Cellular store to pick up a registration card, which will have a voter identification number on it. After registering to vote online, people can, and are encouraged to, vote every day. Voters must be at least 18 years old.
“At this point, I think our message is stale,” said Toland, Thrive executive director. “There’s two problems: There are people who haven’t heard of it and therefor aren’t 
voting, or have picked up a card but have quit voting.”
To remedy the slide in rank among the 1,544 schools that have received votes nationwide, Toland and the administrators, USD 257 Superintendent Brian Pekarek and USD 256 Superintendent David Hardage, agreed on a series of actions.
“We’ve got to get the people who’ve fallen through the cracks,” Hardage said.
First, Toland offered to provide three by six foot banners to be placed in Iola, Humboldt and Moran to advertise the competition and encourage people to vote for Iola Middle School, the school Allen Countians are to vote for if all three districts are to receive any U.S. Cellular dollars.
Hardage’s suggestion of creating a competition among classrooms at each of the Allen County elementary schools — Jefferson, Lincoln, McKinley, Humboldt and Marmaton Valley — was also agreed upon.
“Here’s an idea,” Hardage told the group. “How many of the parents have picked up cards? If fourth grade has picked up more cards than the third grade, now there’s something we can work with.”
Although the details of the student contest — length and scoring method — will be hashed out by school principals and the superintendents, the premise was set. Each classroom will be gauged on how many students’ parents and family members have picked up cards.
“I might regret this, but if each classroom gets 100 percent (of parents with voter cards) Thrive will buy pizzas for every single classroom,” Toland said, adding that the classes need to be graded on percentages because the dynamics of every class is different.
The group also solidified plans to distribute promotional flyers at sporting events, use each district’s student councils and parent teacher organizations to garner support and approach local churches and businesses to help get the word out.
Currently, all Iola banks, Sonic, Ken’s Pizza and Stub’s Market in Moran are handing out leaflets to their customers, assistance that’s had an impact, Toland said.
“It’s really amazing that out of 1,544 schools we’re in 19th place. That’s awesome,” Toland said. “We have to feel good about that, but it’s not money.”
Because U.S. Cellular’s lone Allen County retail office is in Iola, 704 N. State St, people struggling to find transportation should contact Thrive at 365-8128 and arrangements can be made to accommodate them. Furthermore, anyone with ideas on how to garner more votes for Allen County schools are encouraged to contact any of the three school districts or the Thrive office.

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