Board Accepts Land Gift and Hears Report on COVID-19 Relief Funding

DRESDEN (February 4) – Weakley County School Board members heard an update on the second round of COVID-19 relief federal funding, set a tentative graduation date, and received a donation of land in their February meeting.

Betsi Foster, Federal Projects Director, provided an overview of Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund 2.0, including the addition of two new allowable activities: addressing learning loss and school facility repairs and improvements. She noted the funds can also still be used for all expenses previously allowed under the original ESSER Fund: planning for long-term closures, addressing the unique needs of special populations, purchasing education technology, providing summer learning and supplemental after-school programs, providing mental health services or conducting other activities as necessary to maintain operation of services.

Foster said the county’s allocation of $3.8 million over the next two years will focus on finding the right personnel to address learning loss.

“We will address learning loss with what we know works best and that’s teachers and professionals working with students,” she emphasized. “Our plan is to hire more educational assistants, interventionists and possible instructional coaches to work one-on-one with students.”

Since Weakley County doesn’t anticipate any long-term closures, having remained in in-person classes since opening mid-August, the funds will be used to support and build online instructional capacity.

Foster explained that even in normal years, programs like Google Classroom can make student and teachers absences less impactful. In addition, such technologies contribute to the effectiveness of addressing special populations, such as those with disabilities and English language learners.

Grades 1-5 moving to 1-to-1 laptops in the classroom and updated teacher laptops to replace outdated models are among projected uses for the funding.

In mental health services, funds will be directed at addressing the needs of students and teachers by increasing the number of social workers and substitutes.

“This is not recurring money,” Foster underscored. “So, despite our desires to hire as much personnel as possible, we have to remember that the money is going to run out.”

She said the budget is due March 1 with funds available April 1.

Randy Frazier, Director of Schools, shared the background on a land donation of one acre that will expand the pasture ground for the Weakley County Livestock Production Farm. Charles Culver, an alumnus of the Dresden FFA and longtime farmer, gifted the land as a memorial for V.J. Shanklin, the first ag teacher at Dresden High School.

Both Frazier and Board Chair Steve Vantrease expressed appreciation for the gift.

Frazier returned to technology in his report and noted that additional grant monies may be available for replacing approximately 200 touch-screen presentation boards in the schools.

Also, during Frazier’s report, he highlighted that meat from the Weakley County Livestock Production Farm will soon be available to the public. He said that more news regarding the farm, including a new partnership with UT Martin will be forthcoming in a future board meeting.

Frazier reported that the COVID numbers are “really good” with 10 students who are currently positive and 7 staff members. Ninety students were in quarantine and nine staff members, as of Thursday, February 4. He highlighted that on February 1 the total number was 65, the most promising number to date. He also shared that teacher vaccines are underway.

“What we are doing is working,” Frazier noted. “It’s a credit to our schools, staff, administrators and our kids.”

The board also set May 14 as the graduation date for the Class of 2021. Frazier asked for the board to leave open the possibility of adding a day due to COVID-19 protocols. Specifically, he mentioned Westview High School, which due to its large number of students, may require two graduation ceremonies, one on Friday and another on Saturday.

Several requests for volunteer coaches were also approved as follows: Hunter Smith, Gleason baseball; Laura Taylor and Jason Roberts, Westview softball; Ethan Parham, Westview baseball; and Grant Huffstetler and Ross Northcut, Greenfield baseball.

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