December 6, 2021

School districts look to address learning loss, support with federal funds

Colin Spencer/staff reporter

Cortland Enlarged City School District will get $5.7 million to spend on technology, personnel and equipment from the American Rescue Plan, as districts in the greater Cortland area share $24.9 million

As students prepare to return to school next month, Cortland County school districts are looking at how to spend federal stimulus money they’ve received for challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and what that might mean.

The state is receiving $8.9 billion in funding for elementary and secondary schools as part of the American Rescue Plan Act signed in March, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

This comes on top of the $4 billion the state is receiving as part of the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriation Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief fund, according to the state Education Department.

The Homer Central School District is seeking input from parents on how it should use its $4.4 million it is receiving as part of the ARP, according to a July 30 newsletter.

Twenty percent of the funding must be used to address learning loss through programs such as summer learning or summer enrichment, extended day, comprehensive after school programs, or extended school year programs, the newsletter said.

Additionally, the district shared a survey that asks respondents for ideas on how to use the funding on those areas and others including social-emotional support for students and social-emotional support for staff.

“We will review the input, use it to develop our plan, and will share our final product,” Superintendent Tom Turck said in the newsletter.

Turck declined to comment Thursday on how the district is looking to spend the money because details haven’t been solidified.

In Cortland, the district is focusing on how to spend its $5.7 million in ARP funding to safely return all students to in-person learning and purchasing educational technology, according to a presentation shared by Superintendent Robert Edwards.

Addressing the effects of the pandemic, including learning loss for students who switched to remote learning, is also a goal. The top three priorities:

  • Technology equipment.
  • Personnel.
  • Equipment.

Future uses of the funding include before- and after-school clubs and activities, enrichment and summer learning and social-emotional supports

Like Homer, Cortland also will survey parents for ideas and about the start of the school year, according to the presentation.

For Melinda McCool, the superintendent of the McGraw Central School District, one of the biggest areas the district is addressing with its $2.2 million share is learning loss for students who learned remotely compared to those in-person.

“Coming into the school year, we know the school year will be differentiated for students who need to be brought up to speed,” she said.

That is why the district has hired three data instructional coaches who will assess how students who learned remotely, compare them to their in-person peers and provide guidance to assist teachers to help get remote students who may have struggled during the pandemic back on track.

McCool attributes potential issues for why some remote learning students didn’t do as well as their in-person peers to internet instability causing learning problems or potential lack of focus for students when everyone was home in the early days of the pandemic.

Additionally, quarantining may have thrown students off, having to bounce from one mode of learning to another on a moment’s notice, she said.

The district is also hiring a school psychologist, speech therapist, enrichment teachers and a new computer and business teacher for the high school, she said. Another section of universal pre-kindergarten is being added as well.

While some of the new hires — such as the school psychologist — will be used to help the social and emotional needs of students with all the changes brought on by the pandemic, the new business and computer teacher will help expand opportunities for students looking to go into the technology or business sectors, she said.

The question, though, is how the district will be able to sustain the spending past 2024 while adapting to modern methods of teaching.

For now, the district looks to focus on its main goal: educating students.

“I am so excited that September’s going to roll around and we’re going to concentrate” on educating students again, McCool said.