DETROIT (AP) -- The W.K. Kellogg Foundation announced Friday that it's giving $51 million over five years to the public schools in its hometown of Battle Creek, Michigan, in the hopes of tackling low academic performance that has been linked to longstanding racial inequality and segregation.
The grant ranks among the largest to a single, public K-12 school system. It will be put toward hiring early literacy support staff, offering a free pre-kindergarten summer program, and creating a plan to improve student behavior that includes alternatives to suspensions. It also will be used to launch academies aligned with students' fields of interest, invest in the arts and athletics, and offer recruitment and retention incentives for teachers, among other things.
The gift comes after a year of planning by school officials and the January release of a study by a New York University-affiliated center that highlights decades of racial disparities in a city of about 50,000 people that's roughly 70 percent white, 18 percent black and 7 percent Hispanic or Latino, according to the 2010 U.S. Census.
The Kellogg-funded study found that of the more than one-third of Battle Creek Public Schools students who leave the district, most are white and richer than the black, Latino and poorer white students who remain. The remaining students have the lowest access to opportunities to prepare for college and careers. It also found the majority of residents in the Battle Creek area have no college experience, while two-thirds of residents in a neighboring district possess some level of college education.
Battle Creek schools' Superintendent Kim Carter said she's determined to solve rather than dwell on the problem of racial inequality.
"We're not really unpacking the reasons why at this point," she told The Associated Press. "The focus is developing a system that creates access and opportunity for all of the children that I serve."
The district developed its plan based on discussions involving administrators, faculty, staff, parents, students and national education specialists. Carter said it approached the foundation, which is named after the breakfast cereal maker, because it didn't have the funding to implement it.
Carter said Battle Creek schools seek to get students to feel like they are part of their education from the beginning. One significant step will be increasing the number of specialists to work with students individually or in small groups, she said. The added support staff will be working at all levels on boosting academic skills, as well as emotional, social and mental health.
The grant is among the largest of its kind given to a U.S. school district, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy. Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, donated $100 million to the school district in Newark, New Jersey, but most other large gifts were for less than $50 million or were to be distributed over a longer time period.
In recent years, Kellogg has focused on efforts to promote racial equity and has committed $300 million annually to addressing racial disparities for children of color.
Kellogg Co., founded in 1906, still has its corporate headquarters and principal research and development facilities in Battle Creek along with one of four U.S. cereal-making plants. The foundation, established in 1930, is independent but is the company's largest share owner.