11 new positions to be created with Sumner Schools' share of COVID-19 money

Sumner County Schools hopes to create 11 new positions with a second round of federal funding the school district is expected to receive in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The school district first received funds under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act enacted on March 27, 2020. The funds were distributed through the Tennessee Department of Education (TDOE) and the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund.

Known as ESSER 1 funds, Sumner County Schools received around $3.5 million. The money was spent primarily on instructional materials in order to conduct school virtually, according to Sumner County Schools Spokesman Jeremy Johnson.

On Dec. 27, 2020, the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations (CRRSA) Act was enacted providing more money to K-12 schools. This funding is known as the ESSER II.

The local school district was notified earlier this year that it would receive around $14 million in ESSER II funds.

In order to receive the funding, local school districts must submit a spending plan for approval by the TDOE.

In a presentation to the Sumner County Board of Education on March 23, Supervisor of Teaching and Learning Christy Wall briefed school board members on the district’s submitted plan.

The funding plan was devised by a team of school district employees from the finance, information technology, facilities, instruction, safe schools and pupil services departments who met weekly for several weeks, she said.

Expenditures were broken down into three categories – how they would impact students, parents and teachers. The expenditures include the hiring of four social workers; six new lead educators, a math consulting teacher and the purchase of 1,500 teacher lap tops.

More social workers are needed for the school district to support the social and emotional needs of students, according to Wall. The district will hire four more social workers in addition to the nine current positions.

According to Johnson, the school district has four social workers who handle crisis intervention situations across the school district and five who work solely with special education students. The new funding will allow the district to hire two social workers for crisis intervention and two more to work with special needs students.

Other supports planned for students include:

- The purchase of Geodes, decodable readers for grades Kindergarten, first and second grade

- The purchase of a middle school math curriculum

- Increased online security

- The creation of a school care team at each school made up of individuals who keep will an eye out for students’ needs and work in tandem with social workers, according to Wall.

- Intervention tools and supports

- Go Noodle materials, a brain break activity geared toward elementary aged children

Supports for parents include the addition of an employee dedicated to student growth and parent communication; continued use of Possip, a survey issued to parents once-a-month on a variety of topics; use of the Remind app, a toolmteachers use to communicate with parents; and the continued use of Parent TV, an online tool that addresses issues like Internet safety and Cyberbullying.

Wall also outlined some ways teachers will be supported with the additional funding.

While there are now three lead educators spread out across nine high schools, each school will have its own lead educator, Wall said.

The funding will also pay for 1,500 teacher lap tops to provide teachers with audio and camera capacities and allow them more mobility and better options for teaching remotely. The district will also add a math consulting teacher.

Wall said the planning team strived for a student-centered budget.

“We’ve safely reopened schools, we’ve maintained a pretty regular routine schedule to the best of our ability and we will continue to address learning gaps,” she said.

District 1 School Board member Tammy Hayes asked about using one-time federal funds to hire additional employees, a recurring expense.

Director of Schools Dr. Del Phillips said the school district would plan for the new positions in its annual budget.

“My rule is – if you put in a new position, we will have a strategy to budget for those positions,” he said.

The school district has been steadily adding social worker positions each year, Phillips noted.

“We’re already adding social workers,” he said. “We’re just going to be able to do that earlier with ESSER funds.”

The school district was recently notified it would be receiving an additional $31.4 million from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, a $1.9 trillion economic stimulus bill signed into law on March 11. Those funds will be known as ESSER 3.0.

The school district was awaiting guidance from TDOE about how that money can be spent, according to Johnson.

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