Knox Central (Knox County) and Leslie County high schools will soon be benefiting from an innovative partnership that hopes to improve the nation’s persistently underachieving schools.

The U.S. Department of Education (USED) and the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) announced recently the first grants for the new School Turnaround AmeriCorps program.

Launched last February, the School Turnaround AmeriCorps program is designed to support the placement of a dedicated cadre of AmeriCorps members in persistently underachieving schools across the country.

School Turnaround AmeriCorps members will be placed in schools implementing school turnaround interventions as required by USED’s School Improvement Grant (SIG) program or as required through Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) flexibility.

Members will help keep students on track to graduate by working to increase student academic achievement, attendance and high school graduation rates; improve college and career readiness; and provide college enrollment assistance and advice.

One of the 13 grant recipients is a partnership between Berea College’s Partners for Education program and Knox Central and Leslie County high schools. Together, they created PartnerCorps, an AmeriCorps program that will support and sustain school turnaround efforts at both high schools by using AmeriCorps members as mentors, college advisors and family connectors to engage low-income and rural students.

The School Turnaround AmeriCorps program supports organizations that serve low-performing schools around the country, including those in rural areas, and expands on the efforts of Together for Tomorrow, an initiative between USED, CNCS and the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

Each year more than 650 School Turnaround AmeriCorps members participating in the initiative will support a variety of intervention efforts aimed at addressing the unique needs of each SIG and priority school. The 13 awardees will place members in approximately 70 schools in urban and rural communities across the country. Members will support turnaround interventions in 14 states and the District of Columbia. School Turnaround AmeriCorps will leverage an anticipated $18 million in grantee match funding in addition to the $15 million in federal funds during a three-year cycle. The 13 awardees were selected from 66 applicants from around the country.

The School Turnaround AmeriCorps partnership reflects USED and CNCS’s commitment to increasing opportunities for students in disadvantaged communities by providing a high-quality education. Through the SIG program, ED has invested more than $5 billion in more than 1,400 of the country’s lowest-performing schools since 2009. Currently, CNCS programs have a presence in a quarter of schools eligible for SIG funding nationwide.

School Turnaround AmeriCorps will be supported by an initial investment of $15 million in public funds from both agencies over a span of three years. CNCS will seek to raise additional private funds to contribute to this effort. In addition, AmeriCorps members who complete their service in the program will qualify for the Segal AmeriCorps scholarship, which could total $1.5 million a year for all participants.