Chatham County Schools’ $17.4 million of COVID-19 relief funds will be spent on summer programming over the next few years, for technology and connectivity support and to hire at least 68 school and district staff positions, according to the district’s Elementary & Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) spending plan.
The plan, submitted to the state May 7, was approved by the board of education at its June 7 meeting, granting administration the ability to move forward accordingly.
“Previously, we shared with you an overview of our funds, our allocation process that we plan to meet,” CCS’s Amanda Hartness told the board at that meeting. “We’re happy to tell you that all of our plans have been approved at the state and federal level.”
Over the course of the pandemic, CCS received a total allotment of about $18.8 million as part of North Carolina’s ESSER funds, to be received and spent over the next few years. The school system received nearly $1.4 million last year as a part of the CARES Act, and most of that funding went toward buying things to implement its COVID-19 safety protocol.
As part of December’s federal relief act (CRRSA), CCS was allotted $5.4 million, with $12 million most recently allotted through the American Rescue Plan Act.
School districts are expected to use some of their ESSER II funding for this year’s expanded summer programming, as well as for the two summers after. In Chatham, this year’s summer programming starts June 21.
The district previously surveyed principals and other administrators and reviewed academic data to identify the following academic areas of need funds could go toward: achievement and opportunity gaps, English-Language Learner student progress, Math I and middle school and 9th grade ELA. The potential funding areas included extended learning opportunities, investing in human capital, health and safety (such as HVAC systems and PPE) and professional development.
At the board’s June Meeting, Hartness also presented findings from a community survey.
“What we’ve done since the last time we met, we did have a community overview presentation with a video that we sent out to the community in both English and Spanish,” said Hartness, who is the district’s assistant superintendent of academic services and instructional support. “And we provided the community with an input survey. We then took that particular survey information, reviewed it and looked for trends.”
The top priorities indicated in community feedback were:
• Learning Loss and summer programs
• HVAC, safety and personal protective equipment (PPE) needs
• Mental health supports
• More counselors/social workers and nurses
Twenty percent of the most recent funding must go toward mitigating learning loss, or $2.4 million. The remaining funding — from rounds two and three of funding — can be used to respond to COVID-19, prevent COVID-19 and reduce the spread of the virus.
Under the extended learning area, money will fund summer learning programming, technology devices for student and staff, connectivity supports, software subscriptions, additional ESL services and more.
The district will also fund a virtual academy K-12 standalone program, paying for district-wide virtual academy positions: six teachers, two instructional assistants, one counselor, one principal, and one enhancement staffer. Currently, N.C. school districts aren’t required to offer a virtual-only learning option next year; they were required to for the 2020-21 school year. Teachers and staff teaching in-person and students adopting to learning virtually was a big source of burnout this year, the district has previously said. The standalone virtual option will require a semester-long commitment, Hartness said.
The district will use funds to add additional staff positions, including:
• One certified instructional position for each elementary, middle and K-8 school
• A high school dropout prevention position for each high school
• District translator
• Digital learning instruction program facilitator
• K-12 literacy program facilitator
• Equity executive director
• Contracted mental health services for in-school therapy
• Two counselors, three social workers, two nurses, three ESL teachers and 23 instruction assistants to support K-3 learning loss and class sizes
“You’ve heard Dr. (Randy) Bridges in the past talk a little bit about how focusing on K-3 would be critical for learning loss,” Hartness told the board. “So one of the thoughts that we had is providing additional instructional assistants to help class sizes be smaller during instructional blocks.”
The district organized its plan to fully fund every proposed position for the three years of the spending window, Hartness said, whereas one-time purchases are in the funding with a two-year window.
“So our positions would be funded fully for at least three years,” she said.
Reporter Hannah McClellan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @HannerMcClellan.
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