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ACSD makes plans for $5M in COVID aid

We want to be thoughtful in how we spend these funds. We don’t want to create a number of positions we can’t sustain.
— Superintendent Peter Burrows

MIDDLEBURY — The Addison Central School District will receive $5,256,243 in federal grants during the next two years to help its students recover from learning setbacks they might have experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the most recent number released by the government.
The money in question will flow through three separate installments from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) fund. The funding is being awarded in proportion to each school district’s Title 1 grants that assist low-income and/or at-risk students, according to Caitlin Steele, the ACSD’s director of teaching and learning.
Arriving first is “ESSER One,” amounting to $403,402 for the ACSD. The money, which must be spent by Sept. 30, 2022, comes from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. School districts can use this money for such things as personal protective equipment, mental health services and supports, and addressing learning loss as a result of the remote learning systems implemented to prevent contagion.
School districts can also choose to use ESSER One money to hire new staff to help children catch-up on learning skills that might have atrophied during the pandemic. With that in mind, the ACSD is using some of the money to:
•  Contract with the Counseling Service of Addison County for two additional school-based clinicians.
•  Expand a Social and Emotional Learning coordinator position to serve all seven ACSD schools. That coordinator has been working solely at Middlebury’s Mary Hogan Elementary.
•  Hire a literacy interventionist to “make sure we have equitable supports across all our elementary schools” Steele said.
•  Hire a literacy coordinator, a person who’ll work with ACSD literacy data, and local educators to inform reading instruction within the district.
•  Bring on a half-time “preschool and early childhood education transitions coordinator.” This person will, among other things, support students transitioning from preschool to kindergarten.
“As we finish our facilities master planning process we know preschool is one of the things we need to talk about,” Steele said. “We felt like we needed to build capacity internally, both to strengthen what we’re doing currently and to help us set the vision of where we’re going with preschool over time.”
Superintendent Peter Burrows said the aforementioned new hires are important, but stressed the district needs to guard against hiring new personnel it can’t afford in the long term. The new jobs are advertised as being grant-funded for two years, with the possibility of extending.
“We want to be thoughtful in how we spend these funds,” Burrows told the ACSD board on Monday. “We don’t want to create a number of positions we can’t sustain or that are part of a system that we may develop and that would fall away completely when the ESSER funds go.”
Burrows and Steele are hoping the temporary new staff will build stronger programming that can then be managed by district educators and administrators for the long term.
“ESSER Two” will net the ACSD $1,497,016, to be carved from the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations (CRRSA) Act. This money, according to Steele, is intended to be used in conjunction with other federal recovery funding to promote such things as student engagement, class attendance, academic success, and the wellbeing of students. This money must be spent by Sept. 30, 2023.
“ESSER Three,” amounting to $3,355,825, will come from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). Receiving districts, according to Steele, are required to set 20% of this grant aside to “address learning loss during the pandemic”; “respond to students’ academic, social and emotional needs”; and “address the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on subgroups of students.”
In addition, ESSER Three — which must be spent by Sept. 30, 2023 — must be used to develop a plan for the ‘“safe return to in-person instruction and continuity of services,” according to Steele.
The grant windfall is also about creating summer and after-school educational offerings to provide extra help to students who weren’t as successful in the remote learning environment that prevailed during COVID. Addison Central has a recovery planning team that was slated to meet this week to talk about summer and after-school education offerings.
“We will assess our families’ appetite for summer learning and our staff’s willingness, ability and capacity to teach it,” Steele said. “Money is not the object in this context; it’s really human energy. We have a lot of information to gather before we understand what we can pull off for this summer, but we have a team working on it. Our goal this year is to really take programs that already exist in our schools and as much as possible strengthen those and expand them as we’re able. And really look to the future, in terms of what we can provide more coherently over time.”
School districts must submit a COVID recovery plan to the Vermont Agency of Education by June 1.
ACSD officials are still awaiting specifics on what ESSER funding will, and won’t, cover. Since they don’t want to earmark a lot of the money for temporary positions, they’d like to direct some of it to one-time items — including improvements to school buildings and equipment. Vermont stopped providing state aid for school construction more than a decade ago. State lawmakers are considering a study to assess the condition of Vermont’s school facilities to determine how it might reinvest in educational infrastructure.
“I think (capital construction) is a real need for us, and a need for a lot of districts in the state,” Burrows said. “If that is allowed, I think you’ll see most districts will use some of the funding for that.”
Burrows also likes the idea of using some ESSER money to help the district hone its strategic plan and its efforts to promote inclusion and stamp out bias.
Steele and Burrows regularly compare ESSER notes with their counterparts throughout the state.
“We’re certainly not alone in this process,” he said. “There are talks at the state and regional levels around how do we maximize these funds as a state.”
According to the Agency of Education, here are the combined ESSER One, Two and Three totals for other Addison County school districts:
• Addison Northwest School District — $2,612,615.
• Mount Abraham Unified School District — $4,534,597.
• Rutland Northeast Supervisory Union — $7,778,151.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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