A new academic year and a new way of doing things in public schools presents a learning curve for virtually everyone involved. As is such with GPSD.
The Greenville Public School District Board of Trustees held their first regular Tuesday meeting since the academic year school began and after much deliberation over the last few months, approved submission of the ESSER II application and assurances.
Approval of the application was far from a cake walk as trustees had several inquiries regarding some of the positions that would be funded through ESSER funds.
Since becoming aware of the application, the board has been of the consensus that good stewardship must be exhibited when it comes to district finances and federal monies, but some GPSD staff, since returning to in-person learning after nearly a year and a half, seem to need assurances sooner rather than later.
One of the positions — school improvement facilitator for Coleman Middle School — was brought up for discussion to ascertain exactly what it was.
Trustee Dr. Oliver Johnson’s question was that if the district already has a number of content specialists and instructional strategists for each subject area in each school, why is a school improvement facilitator needed.
“I believe in our educators, I think we have enough channels where we can focus on what our issues are,” he said.
Superintendent Debra Dace said of the position, “So we currently have a school improvement coordinator at Weston Middle School and we have one at Greenville High as well. Those individuals focus on helping to make sure of Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS) and at Weston, they also focus on SPED because that was one of the reasons they were a target school.”
MTSS is a framework that helps educators provide academic and behavioral strategies for students with various needs.
Dace continued, “But they help to tackle the learning loss for those individuals and specifically, with the ESSER funds, one of the earmarks is to support teaching and learning for students. This particular one is slated for Coleman being that that’s the only current secondary school that does not have one.”
Summarily, a school improvement facilitator at Coleman would mean overall improvement of academic and behavioral performance as well as the school’s accountability standards.
Johnson asked if the person filling the position would be hired internally or externally, noting the district’s lack of teachers inside the classroom.
“The thing with the strategists is that they are teachers as well as strategists so it’s part time. They more so help the teachers inside the classroom and help them with their knowledge base,” Dace said, noting they’re typically only available two periods a day.
Johnson said in response, “I just feel like right now it’s not warranted because our numbers are not where they need to be with the enrollment and I understand it’s ESSER, but we’re kind of top heavy.”
He added, “We need to be trying to do all we can for our kids to try and help them with so much learning loss that’s going on. I just don’t see a necessity for this position.”
Dace highlighted that with students returning to campus after being out of the classroom for such a significant length of time, teachers and students getting reacclimated coupled with dealing with COVID-19 and contact tracing has presented challenges that school improvement facilitators help to alleviate.
“Teachers are teaching day in and day out, lesson planning and things of that sort. We expect teachers to do MTSS, but to be realistic, that school improvement person does a lot of work at Greenville High and they do a lot of work at Weston and I believe that person will help greatly at Coleman,” she said, acknowledging that numbers do play a role.
Johnson alluded to the importance of fairness across the board with adding such a position as the elementary schools operate with a principal and lead teacher and the middle school, a principal and assistant principal.
Dace said with the board’s approval of ESSER, 50 assistant teachers would be hired across the district to provide support inside the classrooms for nearly all elementary teachers.
The support would range from assisting those students entering first grade who are learning how to write to assisting children with learning loss by conducting “pullouts” or one-on-one interventions.
“So definitely the support is there for the elementary schools,” she said. “We’ll have assistant teachers pretty much all the way up to fifth grade.”
Board president Jan Vaughn said she thinks it is important to always assess the needs of each school and reiterated the student population of each school has to be considered, saying, “You don’t want to have more staff than you do students.”
Coleman Middle School principal, Dr. Wanda Merritt, addressed the board concerning what the experience has been like for students and staff since returning to campus and urged board members to “come and see.”
She vehemently lobbied for the board’s approval of the school improvement facilitator position citing behavioral challenges due to some students’ difficulty to reacclimate to the classroom setting and the taxing process of COVID-19 contact tracing.
“We need some help,” Merritt said to the board. “Today we had our first MTSS meeting — I called it because the child has been suspended three times because he’s been fighting and we need some assistance.”
Merritt continued, “In the midst of that, we had to stop and do contact tracing because we had a positive case come in; I tell you we are working our fingers to the bone.”
Her plea to the board encompassed MTSS assistance, additional resource officers and possibly another administrator.
She also noted the diligence with which she and staff have been working with parents.
“If you look at the data from SchoolStatus, Coleman Middle School leads the district right now with parent contact at 3,000 parent contacts,” Merritt said. “We’ve come several times to the board to ask for a school improvement facilitator, so I’m asking you guys to reconsider.”
She added, “I’m not ashamed to say it because transparency transforms, but we have about 15 kids suspended right now for fighting and we have to send a message.”
Responding to Merritt, Williams said, “We asked for more school resource officers at Coleman. When you say you need a school improvement facilitator, I can deal with you on that.”
Williams also reiterated the board’s efforts to address the needs of the schools and the reality of the impact of additional hires when looking two or three years down the road.
“Our enrollment is decreasing and our expenses are increasing, so what we’re trying to do is eventually avoid that (a reduction of force),” she said. “You don’t want to look at anyone and say “You don’t have a job anymore because we don’t have enough money.””
Williams added, “We’re trying to utilize and maximize what we have across the board, so, a school improvement facilitator, we might be able to wiggle that, but let’s be real about the number — they don’t warrant another administrator. But, we do see the need for more school resource officers.”
Trustee Dr. Doris Thompson reminded fellow trustees and staff of the unprecedented and “trying times” that have arisen.
“We’ve never seen this before what we’re in and it’s really difficult to deal with, even in my house it’s difficult,” she said. “We must work with each other and take in consideration the people that are there everyday working and trying to make it happen.”
Thompson said in conclusion, “I’m not there, I don’t know what’s going on, so we do need to work with each other and sympathize with the needs of each other. I think that’s the proper thing for us to do.”
Following Thompson’s comments, the board voted unanimously to approve the ESSER II application and assurances.