A GROUP OF Philadelphia's most violent high schools have been awarded whopping federal grants totaling more than $42 million to help expand educational and employment opportunities for students, the

Daily News

has learned.

In announcing the awards yesterday, President Bush's Department of Labor noted that of the nine high schools chosen to share in $49.5 million in grants, seven are from Philadelphia.

"We are so excited, we worked so hard on this," said Cassandra Jones, the school district's interim chief academic officer.

Jones, who headed up the effort to win the funding, said the money will be used to boost instruction and professional development and to hire mentors for students.

Through partnerships with the private sector, schools also will place students in paid internships to provide them with on-the-job experience, according to a Labor Department news release.

The overall goal is to decrease dropout rates, reduce school violence and improve overall student behavior and performance.

"We, the central staff, have worked night and day with these schools and their teachers and leadership teams. We are just thrilled," said Jones, who completed her last day as CAO yesterday.

All of the schools receiving grant money are on the state's "Persistently Dangerous Schools" list, which must be compiled annually under the federal No Child Left Behind law.

Six large high schools will each get about $6.4 million. They are: Overbrook, Germantown, University City, Lincoln, West Philadelphia and Bartram. FitzSimons was selected from among the small high school category and will receive $3.6 million.

The other schools receiving awards are Baltimore's W.E.B. DuBois High School and New York state's Berkshire Union Free School, each receiving $3.6 million.

The Labor Department said the competition for grant money was limited to schools that identified themselves as having persistently high levels of violence. In addition to Philadelphia, schools that met that requirement were in Baltimore, Berkshire Farms, N.Y., New York City, Puerto Rico and Salem-Keizer, Ore.

A total of 18 applications were received in response to the department's solicitation for grant applications. *