Officials at West Hartford public schools have shared plans for allocating federal relief grant funds with the Board of Education.
By Ronni Newton
West Hartford Public Schools have received federal grants totaling nearly $ 15 million, and officials shared with the Board of Education on Tuesday evening how those funds will be spent over the next three years.
Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Assistance (ESSER) funds were allocated to the district through three separate federal statutes, with different parameters applying to the use of each grant. The district’s largest room, passed under the American Rescue Plan Act, is available until September 30, 2024.
The funds were not just a gift, said Superintendent Tom Moore. The district had to fill out applications detailing the intended use of the money, and Liz Hewitt, the district’s budget and finance manager, spent much of the summer applying for the grants.
“It’s drying up,” Moore warned, noting that in a few years the board will have to decide whether some of the new initiatives and staff supported by the grants should be in the education budget.
Other uses of ESSER funds are of a more permanent nature, whether for physical investments or for training.
Hewitt told the board on Tuesday evening that the decision-making process on the use of funds involved engagement with stakeholders, including the Parent Teacher Council, the Bridge Family Center, the Special Education PTO and the West Hartford Education Association. . “We asked for their contribution to really meet the needs of the community,” she said.
Hewitt, along with Assistant Superintendents Paul Vicinus and Andy Morrow, Director of Equity Advancement Roszena Haskins and Director of Student Services Melissa Caballero, outlined specific plans for allocating funds. The full written report they submitted is available in PDF format below.
More than $ 9 million has been allocated to “academic renewal and accelerating learning,” which includes reducing class sizes, Vicinus said, and adding speakers for reading and learning. math to help students who may have lost ground in the past school year.
Recovery services, using certified teachers, will also be provided to students with Individualized Education Plans (IEP), Caballero said. Additional pre-K sections, paraprofessionals and a speech therapist are also funded.
Grant funds have already been used over the summer in the form of an expansion of various summer learning opportunities. The “Summer Connections” program, which was limited to students at Charter Oak International Academy and Smith STEM School, has been extended to all elementary students. The ESOL summer program was also expanded, a summer program for middle school students was put in place, and high school students who failed a course and had to catch up on credit were able to register for the course at no cost.
To support the social, emotional and mental health of students as well as staff, the district added social workers, clinical responders and crisis responders. Funds are also allocated to expand the non-sport offerings available to provide non-sport students the opportunity to help them re-enter the community and participate in social and enrichment activities.
The district is also “investing in partnerships” with organizations such as the Bridge Family Center, Haskins said, helping “reluctant students to find their spark.” There are deliberate investments in improving family and school ties, proactively removing possible barriers.
Haskins added that teaching a social justice program is “a moral imperative” and something the district will continue to invest in.
Several initiatives will be funded specifically to support the professional development of staff. Caballero said the district will invest in training in specialized instructional strategies to support students with dyslexia.
Also related to staff development, guidance counselors will receive additional training “to enable an intimate understanding of the programs, campus and admission contacts, scholarship opportunities and incentives available to students at the university. », Indicates the written report presented to the Council.
The district is already a leader in computer training, but will expand this area of focus to all subjects with the capacity building of teachers over the next two summers. “This is the world they have to prepare for,” said Vicinus.
In order to continue supporting safe and healthy schools, Morrow said that thanks to the grants, a full-time supervisor for nursing will be maintained, certified practical nurses will be assigned to each elementary school, and additional funds will be allocated for the purchase of personal protection. cleaning equipment and products.
The funds will also be used to ensure that the ventilation systems continue to operate at their optimum capacity, and the playgrounds will be refurbished to provide students with safe outdoor recreation opportunities.
“Our plan is to use these funds over the next three years to meet the needs of students,” Hewitt said.
Board member Mark Zydanowicz stressed the importance of informing the public about what is provided by ESSER funds, and also of managing expectations so that there are no surprises when funds will no longer be available in a few years. As an example, he noted, the funds are currently being used so that high school students do not have to “pay to play sports,” but families need to know that this will change when the money goes. the grant will no longer be available.
Moore agreed that it is important to be clear about the nature of the funds. “This is not a lifelong post,” he said.
Vicinus said the district was grateful for the federal support, and others agreed.
“The opportunity to bring nearly $ 15 million in funding to our district… is a beacon of hope,” said board chair Deb Polun.
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