James Barlament, on grants and problem-solving

James Barlment

James Barlament has both a BA and MA in History from UGA, and he’s currently the Charter System Director for the Clarke County School District. And his path to that job was through grant development.

The world of grants might be invisible to most undergrads, but it shouldn't be! because it’s a major force behind research and social change. An institution or group will ask for outside funding in order to research and analyze a given problem or question, and to develop creative solutions to tackle those challenges.

Grant work is also a great home for history majors. For example, six months after getting his MA James got for a job with the College of Public Health as a program analyst for Traffic Safety Research and Evaluation Group, which was funded through a grant that analyzed other traffic safety programs. He’d spend half his day on data research (of crashes, traffic fatalities, and so on) and writing research papers or reports on the significant trends that he uncovered. The other half of his day was dedicated to program evaluation, which involved analyzing the success of existing traffic safety programs funded by grants (including Click It or Ticket, Operation Zero Tolerance, and Students Against Destructive Decisions). That job had been advertised through UGA and hadn’t required a background in any particular subject. But being a history student definitely helped him in the interview:

“I could do the research and analysis because of those skills that I had gained from being in history — and if you can make that relationship, that jump, it really impresses interviewers. Grant work is really good entry-level work because you don’t have to have a lot of experience. But if you do have experience in something like history — you’re a good writer, you’re a good researcher, you can find information, you can organize ideas well, you’re grounded in solid ideas about the meaning of where we are in this place and time — being an analyst or grant coordinator or writing grants is a good place to be.”

After seven years in that job James became the Grant and Research Coordinator for the Clarke County School District, which involved a lot of grant writing in addition to seeing a grant through from concept to design to implementation. Every grant application will ask: What is your need? What will you do with the money? How will you use it? Who’s going to be working on it? Answering these questions depends on research, writing, and organization skills that history majors have to cultivate — to "figure out what the buckets of work are, and figure out how to organize it in a way that won’t be overwhelming.” And it’s also key to know what happened in the past, in order to think strategically — to know which grants worked in the past, which ones didn’t, and why.

That work has paid off: Clarke County School District wins about fifteen grants a year, currently totaling about $15 million. These grants have involved projects ranging from professional development for math teachers, STEM, STEAM (which includes the arts in addition to science, technology, engineering, and math), mentoring for new teachers, and literacy; as well as issues that extend beyond the schools, including drug-free communities, gang-related task forces, economic mobility for Athens youth, and a partnership with College of Public Heath to conduct of a wide-ranging survey of Athens (on topics such as transportation, jobs, safety, community engagement, and health).

James’ current position involves overseeing the district’s transition to a charter system, which means that its twenty-one schools have more flexibility and more community input and decision-making. Engaging the participation of parents and community members to serve on teams for every school in the district is yet another form of research and analysis: it generates “better and more timely information about people in our community to help us make better decisions.” That’s challenging in a district that has 14,000 students, 80% of whom are economically disadvantaged. But the more that James and his colleagues learn about Athens and its history, the better they can develop grants and programs that actually address the county’s issues in a meaningful and transformative way.

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