Back to the Buildings: Assessing Your District's Needs as In-Person Education ResumesPosted on Aug 13, 2021 1:06:41 PM
States across the country have announced guidelines for in-person and/or virtual education for the 2021-2022 academic year. These guidelines are requiring them to determine how their state government's guidance will impact planning for returning to school and, as a result, adding significant strain to an already difficult workload. Additionally, these decisions are creating incremental challenges for school officials in meeting their communities' expectations regarding both safety and ensuring an optimal education environment for their children.
To most effectively your individual district's needs and ensure your district is well-positioned as you move forward in your chosen return-to-school model for the 2021-22 school year, it is important to consider the following factors:
Know Your Staffing
Awareness of your staffing counts, as well as those of your peers, is a critical step in the planning process for any school year. In the upcoming academic session, however, it is more important than ever. Many districts experienced mass resignation and/or retirements during the beginning of the 2020-2021 academic year and were forced to determine an alternate plan during the school year. Others prepared by hiring additional staff to support reductions in class size and make virtual teachers available. Finally, districts nationwide raised staff counts to cover for staff required to quarantine or isolate due to the pandemic. This has caused an unbalanced number of staff across multiple districts in many states. Districts should review their current staffing count and ensure the levels meet the needs of incoming students. A contingency plan should also be put in place to facilitate an informed response to any unusual enrollment shifts.
Parents approached the fall 2020 school year with apprehension, uncertain of how to proceed with their children's education. While many parents were concerned about the ramifications of their children being in-person, more than half of the working-parent population was forced to resign from their jobs due to their children's school or daycare being closed. A portion of school-aged children were either enrolled in open private or charter schools, while many others were homeschooled or, in the case of kindergarten, simply held back from their school year. As a result, school districts across the country are preparing for increased class sizes as students return to the buildings. An awareness of current class sizes, projected enrollment, and potential enrollment is vital to ensuring equitable education, as well as honoring any social distancing guidelines that may still be in place.
Many states cancelled state assessment testing in 2020, and in early April of 2021, some announced they would again suspend testing after receiving permission from the U.S. Department of Education. While an abbreviated test will be administered in the fall of 2021, determining where your student body currently stands in their understanding and comprehension of the curriculum has proven to be difficult. Access to historical data on this front has enabled school administration to follow cohorts of students through previously taken exams to see where proficiency rates have been within the specific group, and then use this data to make an educated decision. Armed with this information and input from their teachers, school administrators can make a confident choice as to the forward projection of their students.
Addressing Learning Gaps
Districts across the country continue to wrestle with the issues of learning gaps. Once district administration has determined at what point their students are at in their education—and identified the children most impacted by learning loss—the next step is to identify the interventions needed. Districts can use analytics to point them towards the correct supports, determine the optimal time for those interventions, and help determine how staff can best support their students in recovering missing education. While this is especially important in the primary years, it can impact students at any level. Ensuring each student, regardless of need, is on target for their next grade level—up to and including college and career readiness—is one of the primary goals of school districts nationwide.
Since virtually all actions taken by school districts require funding, it is critical for districts to be aware of their financial position. This is particularly critical due to school aid program cuts that many states made, forcing school organizations to also make necessary cuts, often to the detriment of students and the district. Finally, with the pandemic having forced so many out of jobs, there is also the possibility of local revenue sources being impacted due to unpaid property taxes. However, the federal government has provided districts with additional funding nationwide via the American Recovery Plan (ARP)/ESSER funds, mandating that at least 20% of these funds be utilized to offset learning loss. It has been strongly suggested districts not use this for recurring costs but rather for one-time solutions such as facility upgrades and stipends. By creating a spending plan, districts can distribute these funds toward the budgeted items that are most appropriate, reserving other state and local resources for recurring costs such as staff additions, class size changes, and permanent calendar changes.
In summary, despite what your Fall 2021 school year may look like, taking time to consider the factors outlined above can help your district be better prepared and ensure you are effectively meeting the needs of your students, staff, and community.
To learn more about data analytics and how they can help you and your district, please contact us.
Gretchen DeBobes is a 5Sight Analytics Advisor whose clients include school administrators in New Jersey, New York, and Virginia. Gretchen is dedicated to promoting the use of data in making informed decisions that will positively impact both districts and students. Prior to this role, she was a Senior Accountant for a private technology firm. She received a Bachelors in Communications from the State University of New York at Oswego and currently resides in New York with her husband and son.