New Haven’s school reform efforts received a federal endorsement Thursday afternoon in the form of a multi-million dollar grant from the Obama administration.

The city’s school district will receive a projected $53.4 million federal grant over five years to support professional development for teachers and administrators, city officials announced in a Thursday afternoon press conference at John Martinez School in Fair Haven. Mayor John DeStefano Jr., Superintendent Reginald Mayo, U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro and other city and school officials announced that New Haven had won the competitive grant, which they said was awarded due to the city’s ambitious education reform drive, which first attracted national attention with a 2009 contract with the district’s teachers’ union hailed as a breakthrough for tying teacher evaluations to student learning.

“New Haven school change is one of the nation’s pre-eminent public school reform initiatives that says the best way to strengthen America and New Haven, to reduce violence and build a civil society, to create jobs and welcome our families — the best way to do that is to invest in the academic competence of our young ones.” said DeStefano, who called the grant a “game changer” for New Haven education. “Couple this effort with our groundbreaking school administrators and teachers agreement, our focus on a portfolio approach to schools, [the scholarship program] New Haven Promise, our partnership with Yale … Wrap all of this together and you have one of the broadest, most comprehensive approaches to gathering adults around our young people.”

New Haven has been called “ground zero for school reform in America” by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof for the unusually cooperative relationship between the teachers’ union and school administrators. DeStefano has spoken at education summits in Seattle and during the Democratic National Convention about what DeLauro said has been called the “New Haven model.”

“Here in New Haven, our schools and teachers have led the way in demonstrating to the entire nation that strong teachers’ unions, strong schools, strong education reforms are all part of the education solution,” DeLauro said, who stressed that the grant is a “big deal.”

To put the amount of money New Haven received in perspective, DeStefano compared the city’s grant to that of the New York City School system, another recipient. While New Haven will receive $12 million in the first year of its grant, the New York City School system will receive just $13 million in that time despite its much larger size, DeStefano said. Teacher evaluation and development play a central role in New Haven’s reform efforts, and most of the money will go to bolstering the existing system of teacher development.

The grant, from the federal Teacher Incentive Fund of $285 million, will primarily flow to the New Haven Professional Educator Program, which builds off the teacher and administrator evaluation system to provide additional training. Some of the grant money will also go to higher compensation and better career advancement opportunities for school district employees.

Mayo, meanwhile, cited some of the city’s prior successes in improving its schools, which he attributed to the efforts of the city’s teachers. The graduation rate has improved by 2 percent over the past year, standardized test scores are up, the achievement gap is narrowing and New Haven schools have seen a 9 percent increase in the number of students on track to graduate on time, Mayo said.

The grant — one of 35 such grants awarded across the country — will be overseen by a six-person Talent Council consisting of three school administrators and three teachers who will split decision-making authority, officials said. Ideally, the grant will help the city attract top talent to New Haven schools with higher compensation, Assistant Superintendent Garth Harries ’95 said, who added that grant-funded programs should begin at the start of 2013.

“We want to be a place where great teachers want to be and want to spend their careers,” Harries said.

New Haven’s public schools enroll a total of nearly 21,000 students.