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Stonington school board approves $1.2 million COVID recovery plan

Stonington — The Board of Education has approved a plan to use more than $1.2 million in federal COVID funding to run a summer school and hire a large group of teachers, instructors and mental health workers to help students recover academically, socially and emotionally from the effects of the pandemic.

Superintendent of Schools Van Riley and Assistant Superintendent Mary Anne Butler stressed to the board Thursday night that they need to begin hiring immediately because other school systems will be looking to hire large numbers of new staff at the same time. 

"We need to be out there right away," Riley told the board.

Riley also told the board that next month he will present the board with a plan on how to spend another $3.4 million in federal COVID funding slated to come to the town. He said the board will have to decide how much of that money it will want to use to make needed HVAC repairs at the the middle and high schools.

The school system has already spent the $280,000 it received in the first pandemic-related federal grant on items such as personal protective equipment, paraeducutors, custodians and technology.

Before detailing the summer school plan and the hiring of more than 20 full- and part-time teachers, tutors, paraprofessionals and other staff members, Riley, Butler and school principals outlined the challenges they are facing.

These include that 80 students at the high school, which is more than 10 percent of the school, require "intensive interventions" because they have not been engaged in classes and have not earned credit toward graduation. The number of Ds and Fs being earned by high school students has also increased significantly to almost 11%. Student math scores have also decreased across grade levels.

Meanwhile, 21 perecent of of students at West Vine Street School and 33 percent of students at the middle school are receiving mental health services. Data also shows that an average of just 33% of students are actively engaged in instruction. Data also shows the "most aggressive support" is need at West Vine Street School.

Board members expressed concerns that the new postions would become permanent parts of the annual budget after the federal funds are expended, but school officials said the intention is that the positions are temporary. The school system has until September 2023 to spend the $1.2 million.

Summer school plan

The plan calls for running a kindergarten readiness academy for 15 incoming kindergarten students with no preschool experience from 8:30 to 11 a.m. on Aug. 10-12 and 17-19.

Summer school for grades 1-5 and 6-8 would be held from July 6 to Aug. 5 from 8:30 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.  The high school will offer 40 hours of instruction for 40 incoming 9th graders from Aug. 9 to 20. Credit recovery classes will also be held for another 30 students from July 6 to Aug. 5 from 8:30 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. Students in grades 1 to 8 will also receive academic instruction and social-emotional learning as part of the Recreation Department's summer camp. 

Riley said that after this week's April vacation the school system will survey parents about their interest in summer school. 

Board member Gordon Lord said he is hearing a "mixed bag" of comments from parents about their interest in summer school. 

"Some people are saying, 'We're going to the beach,'" he said.

School-by-school hiring

The plan at Dean Mill School is to hire an academic interventionist to help students with math and reading, a numeracy/literacy tutor and a science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) instructor who will be shared with West Vine Street School.  The school also plans to have one week of social-emotional programming for 15 students returning from all remote learning in 2020-21.

The plan at West Vine Street School calls for hiring an academic interventionist, a first-grade teacher, a fourth-grade teacher, a literacy tutor, a numeracy tutor, an instructional coach, a mental health worker and a behavioral technician to help students "with significant behavioral support needs."

The plan at the middle school calls for hiring a math interventionist, a social and emotional learning coordinator, a math tutor and a paraprofessional for project-based learning. 

The plan at the high school call for hiring a teacher and paraprofessional for the Learning Hub and a  general education teacher, a special edccuation teacher and a paraprofessional for the Bear Academy as well as a hall monitor.

Plans also call for spending $110,000 across the school district on additional custodial and paraprofessional help.  



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