SALEM — Salem school officials don’t plan to extend this school year or stage a summer program to catch up students who may have fallen behind during the pandemic.
Instead, Superintendent Sean Kirkland said the plan is to increase opportunities for intervention, extra attention and programming when they’ve got them all back in the buildings starting next fall.
“We’re really focused on providing those resources/instructions throughout the course of the next school year,” he said.
Gov. Mike DeWine asked school districts to devise plans to help students recover or regain what may have been lost due to the up and down nature of the learning process due to Covid-19.
Last spring, students lost out on all their extracurricular activities and attended school remotely. This school year, many students returned to the classrooms, while some remained on remote status due to the uncertainty of the virus.
Kirkland said the only mandate related to the Learning Recovery and Extended Learning Plan was submitting the report to the state by April 1. The district looked at both summer school and extending the school year, but he said they ran into time constraints.
This year, the school calendar started later than usual and is ending later than usual, with June 9 the last day. The next school year will go back to normal, with a start date of Aug. 25 for students, leading to a condensed summer.
A survey of the staff in each building was done and the result was a manpower issue. Not enough educators were interested in taking part in a summer school program.
Kirkland also questioned whether they would get the same results in a condensed two or three-week program in the summer, when kids’ minds are elsewhere, as they could with a program that was integrated into the school day for the whole school year.
He said the plan is “to embed all our resources within the school year, throughout the day, when we know we have access to our students.”
In recent years, he said the district did some belt-tightening by not filling some positions, such as in-school suspension, but now they’ll be able to use Elementary & Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Funds to bring back some positions to increase intervention programming.
The district received $625,000 for this year and now an additional pot of $2.4 million from ESSER. Last year, the district received a $100,000 grant for Covid-19 relief to help cover the cost of personal protective equipment and anything needed to make the buildings safer, such as touchless faucets for sinks and water bottle filling stations, temperature check machines and sanitizing equipment.
Some of the new learning plans include: adding an additional science teacher at the high school; having a Title/reading teacher at every grade level K-8 to fill any gaps in language arts and math and work with kids at risk; bringing back an in-school suspension teacher at the high school to work with kids on credit recovery; hiring an additional intervention specialist; and bringing back three paraprofessionals at Buckeye Elementary so each grade level has two (right now each has just one).
Next year, the goal is to have all the students back in the buildings in person, with a few exceptions for high school students attending through Quaker Tech, the online school. Remote learning won’t be an option next school year for students in K-8 and even at the high school level, the preference will be in-person learning.
“Kids seem to have more success face-to-face. We’re really going to push for kids to be face-to-face,” Kirkland said.
Students have been returning to school this year gradually. For example, in K-2 at Buckeye, they started the school year with two remote teachers per grade level. Now they’re down to one remote teacher per grade. Same at Reilly in grades 3-4, he said.
The district has already been working on assessing students and there’s already been some state testing and much of this month will including state testing.
Kirkland said they’re expecting to see a downward trend in scores due to the pandemic, but they’re hoping it’s minimal. This school year, both the high school and Reilly shut down for a week or longer due to virus outbreaks, going all remote. All the schools went all remote for two-week intervals after Thanksgiving and Christmas/New Year’s holiday breaks to try to stem the tide. Other than that, and students who chose the all-remote option for the school year, many students have received mostly face-to-face instruction.
He said the administration and staff were pleased and confident with what they were able to provide students both online and face-to-face.
“We’re confident that our kids have received quality instruction that will make them successful,” he said.
Kirkland was also happy the students were able to experience some of the events that go with school, such as athletics and some extracurriculars. At the high school level, there’s a musical this month, a prom is planned and graduation.
A copy of the Learning Recovery and Extended Learning Plan is available on the school website at salemquakers.k12.oh.us.