Survey responses fuel ideas for school COVID money

A CNC (computer numerical control) plasma welding machine crafts a “Class of 2021” sign during a Kodiak High School class under student Jackson Roberts’ direction. A list of suggestions for how to spend COVID-19-related funding for schools includes a stronger emphasis on career planning, such as welding.

 

A survey of 401 high school and middle school students and 387 parents, employees and community members generated a response on potential uses for COVID-19 money allocated to the Kodiak Island Borough School District, according to Superintendent Larry LeDoux.

LeDoux and Board of Education clerk Bianca Clark provided the update at Monday's work session, noting the survey had yielded thousands of answers from the hundreds of participants. 

“The district has received money under what I call CARES I, CARES II and CARES III,” LeDoux said. “Because of the cooperation and generosity of the borough, they have since last March passed on substantial COVID resources that have helped us pay for expenses.”

The borough’s allocation of those resources helped the school district with necessary expenses, such as installing no-touch restrooms and air filtration systems, hiring staff and funding equipment to sanitize classrooms. 

According to Sandy Daws, the district’s chief financial officer, the district received a total of $2.67 million from the borough in two disbursements. 

"It (the second disbursement) was extremely helpful to us and it would have been very difficult to do all the cleaning we had to do in the classrooms," Daws said.

As such, LeDoux said, the school district doesn’t have to invest its CARES Act money on such things, unlike other school districts across the state or nation. 

Instead, the one-time money would go into funding programs and infrastructure dedicated to future learning processes.

“We can spend it on things like intervention that will address loss of learning suffered by students during (the pandemic), to attend to some of the emotional trauma suffered by students, and, more importantly, to move past and achieve some of the goals we had for student performance prior to COVID-19,” LeDoux said. 

According to Daws, Kodiak Island Borough School District was allocated a total of $3.7 million across the CARES Act and the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSA) of 2020, and the 2021 American Rescue Plan Act.

The Department of Education, Daws, added, recommended the district spread spending out over three years: 40% each in fiscal years 2022 and 2023, and 20% in fiscal year 2024.

The funds are allocated via the U.S. Department of Education’s Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund and dedicated to K-12 schools.

LeDoux stressed that the CARES Act money would be considered “one-time” and wouldn’t be used for operational costs. In addition, the federal government has specific spending requirements.

“It’s money we need and want, and we will fulfill all the requirements,” LeDoux said. “We’re going to try to be very careful and thoughtful on how we use the money.”

The first round of CARES Act money needs to be spent by year’s end, while the second and third rounds have been extended by three years.

 

SURVEY RESPONSES PROVIDE

SUGGESTIONS

According to a report compiled by Clark and Jamie Butler from survey responses, the district received “much praise” on the overall handling of COVID-19 safety guidelines.

“Students stated that generally they felt that their grades had not suffered during the school year,” Clark said Monday. “School district data clearly notes regression among students and is being considered and addressed.”

Clark said stakeholders had concerns about academic gaps and shortfalls during the 2020-2021 school year. Many students who felt they were behind expressed feelings of stress, especially when they felt the workload was too high or when they lacked a clear understanding of their class assignments.

Students suggested that allowing more time for advisory support or adding a study hall would help, Clark said.

“Stakeholders encouraged increasing academic interventions and providing support for students who are graduating in the form of both pre- and post-graduation planning,” she said.

Other concerns include addressing student mental health and access to counseling and intervention services, student re-entry to schools and adequate socialization during the transition back to in-person instruction.

“A concern about bullying, both in-person and cyberbullying, was recognized as a common theme that should be further addressed at the secondary school level, including through healthy relationships and anti-bullying training,” Clark said. “Stakeholders also noted concerns relative to vaping substance abuse, violence and student behavior.”

Student responses to COVID-19-modified in-person education indicated students enjoyed being back in school with peers and smaller class sizes — high school students enjoyed a “block” schedule of classes and longer lunch periods, while middle school kids enjoyed “companies.”

Students who were on distance learning seemed to enjoy the ability to sleep in, and having a better work pace and more free time, while stakeholders were mixed on the model. Stakeholders, Clark said, encouraged the district to improve the distance-learning model in case COVID-19 or a related problem reasserts itself.

The upcoming school year remains uncertain, according to Clark’s report, including the availability of advanced placement courses and electives. Survey respondents expressed apprehension about adjusting to a new schedule, as well as a desire not to wear facial masks. Stakeholders also encouraged more flexibility for students regarding masks.

Summer programs helped alleviate concerns about learning loss, with stakeholders expressing the importance of continued student activities.

“Parents are eager to resume engaging in parent involvement opportunities in schools next year,” Clark said.

Stakeholders also encouraged the continuation of the district’s food program, which provided meals for all children, not just school district children.

 

POTENTIAL USES

FOR MONEY

LeDoux said that the district administration compiled a list of potential programs that can be used in its American Rescue Plan Mitigation Plan, a structure designed to make use of its CARES Act funding. 

The American Rescue Plan is the third round of COVID relief and stimulus funding, passed earlier this year and signed by President Joe Biden; the previous CARES Act funding was signed by former President Donald J. Trump.

Outside of a social worker position, all positions or programs will only be temporarily sustained by CARES Act money. Some, LeDoux said, may serve as the seed for opportunities the district has wanted to pursue for years but couldn’t due to prudent budgeting. 

LeDoux said district staff will develop a plan over the summer to start putting infrastructure in place. The board of education would be provided more specific information in an upcoming meeting.

Some things include the addition of a health curriculum coordinator and overhauling the K-12 health education lesson plans. 

“This hasn’t happened in years and there have been a lot of changes,” LeDoux said. “Health curriculum used to center on content and timing … but in our society a lot of the topics have changed and the content is available to every student with a smartphone.”

LeDoux stressed a more centralized system would be best, requiring a health specialist to coordinate the curriculum and help students understand content.

“Access to content does not provide information, and some of the content is misinformed or inappropriate,” LeDoux said.

Another suggestion includes hiring an assessment coordinator to help with tests, including SATs, PSATs and AP testing, something counselors currently do. LeDoux said a coordinator would free up counselors to focus on students’ emotional and academic concerns.

Other suggestions included the creation of a family resource center, a career and advising program, a middle school alternative program, additional after-school clubs that have learning components, continued Tagalog and Spanish translation services, and family training in reading and parenting. 

“We believe a number of our families, as we discovered this past year, don’t feel connected to our district through language or culture,” LeDoux said. “One of the things that could help us connect with these families is a family resource center.”

He observed that students and families who come from another country “don’t really access our school system, sometimes because the way they were taught was not appropriate, or sometimes it’s language or cultural barriers.”

A resource center would allow parents to come and ask questions and receive information in their own language, he added.

There would also be an emphasis on career-oriented education programs.

“The creation of a career curriculum and advising program would be beneficial,” LeDoux said. “The number one complaint with parents is that after their kids graduate, the degree of career and technical education in counseling. We believe that it needs to begin early, in the sixth grade, and be aggressive and with a trajectory that prepares kids for when they graduate that ensures they have taken the proper classes.”

He noted that students should know what scholarships are available, and how to fill out forms for colleges or trade schools. He referenced JobCorps, a federal-level training and residential program that helps with technical education in industries such as welding and culinary arts.

“We need to build a program and I believe that will take a (temporary) full-time person to build and integrate it into our system,” LeDoux said. COVID-19 relief funding could help design that program, he added.

The administration also recommends a need for employee health and fitness, adoption of a teacher mentoring program to help support new teachers, and shared leadership training for all schools.

LeDoux again stressed the money was one-time funding and would not be used to backfill the district’s normal budgeting process. He added that teachers have often dreamed of doing such programs, but rarely had the resources to provide the grassroots building.

“Now we have opportunities to implement some things that we’ve wanted to do for years,” he said, adding it would take time, community input and effort to build them up.

Board members chimed in on the report, all noting the detail going into it.

“It’s a one-in-several-generation opportunity to change how education works, as was mentioned,” said board member Dave Johnson.

He added that one thing he would like to explore would be reintegrating the sixth grade class back into elementary schools.

LeDoux said such an option would require community input, examining space at elementary schools and their possible reconfiguration, a concept that did not do well when it was last broached.

Board member Katie Oliver said she appreciated the level of response the community provided, as well as the level of detail that went into preparing ideas.

“I like this list that we’ve started … and I look forward to see how things are developing,” Oliver said.

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