BY KAREN CAMPBELL
Weakley County Schools Communications Director
WEAKLEY COUNTY (December 2) – Weakley County Schools received word this summer they would be the recipients of a federal grant totaling $8.6 million. The Elementary and Secondary Schools Emergency Relief (ESSER 3.0) was the third in the series of relief grants focused on addressing the impact of COVID-19 over the next three years. Between the announcement and final approval of how those funds would be used came many months of research, budgeting, and adjustments. Last week, Angie Rushing, the director of ESSER 3.0 hired to oversee the process, received word that final approval from the Tennessee Department of Education was received. After final approval by the Weakley County Board of Education, purchases can begin.
Rushing noted that according to the grant rules, any ESSER purchases must “directly relate to help safely reopen and sustain the safe operations of schools and address the impact of COVID on students to prevent, and/or prepare for, and/or respond to COVID-19.”
After receiving input from the community via surveys, research on what other systems were doing, visits and conversations with teachers and administrators at every school, formulating a 55-page spending plan, and adjusting the application each time the TDOE requested a change, the county board reviewed and approved the final product during the December board meeting.
“I’m looking forward to moving from the planning stage to the spending stage of the ESSER 3.0 grant,” Rushing noted after receiving approval. “I feel very grateful to everyone in Weakley County for their support and interest in ESSER. Our students suffered great learning loss from the shut down in 2020 and from the absences for illness in 20-21. ESSER 3.0 will hopefully give our faculty and students what they need to recover from the impacts of COVID and be successful in the years to come.”
To address learning loss, an After School Scholars Tutoring Program at all schools for grades 1-12 is planned for January. Tutors will address deficits of students in English Language Arts for grades 1-5 and Math for grades 6-12. The program includes two afternoons of assistance with low student to teacher ratios, working on specific standards and homework. A snack and transportation home will also be provided.
Another means to address learning loss is the addition of 24/7 On-Line Tutoring through Princeton Review at tutors.com. Beginning in January all students will be given access to the online program, which covers all subjects taught at Weakley County Schools.
Instructional Materials valued at $5,000 for each school will soon be purchased. Those include items such as microscopes with slides and cover slips, DNA Models, animal and plant cell models, preserved frogs for dissection, preserved dogfish sharks for dissection, coloring pencils, color printers and ink for classrooms, dry erase boards, VEX Robotics parts, TI-84 calculators, CPR light-up dummies, body system models, anatomy and physiology charts.
Applications will soon be accepted for the new position of Instructional Technology Coach. The new coach will train teachers and staff on how to find, facilitate and utilize the latest and best resources.
Currently, Weakley County Schools employs one social worker for Special Education and one for students in the general education population. ESSER 3.0 funds will allow for hiring three additional social workers who will assess and counsel students who have been affected by COVID-19 and have underlying issues challenging their ability to learn and be successful in the school setting.
Playground improvements are planned for Sharon School, Martin Primary, Martin Elementary, Gleason School, Dresden Elementary, and Greenfield School.
Awnings to make drop off and pick up a safer experience for students will be added at Gleason School, Greenfield School, Martin Primary, Martin Elementary, Martin Middle, and Sharon School.
A new Behavior Intervention Classroom for grades K-5 will be established. A dually certified special education/general education teacher and two Educational Assistants will be hired to work with up to 10 students at a time.
To allow for better social distancing, new desks will be secured for Dresden Elementary, Greenfield School, Sharon School and Westview High School. Building improvements to school office areas, teacher workspaces, HVAC systems, and Westview’s Theater and gymnasium are also planned.
More than 100 air purification devices will be purchased for classrooms districtwide in hopes of decreasing the spread of illness.
Due to a shortage of bus drivers – a result of COVID-19 — monies have been allocated for teachers to become Certified Bus Drivers to help with transporting students to contests, athletic events, and field trips.
Retrofitting two retired school buses will allow for the creation of a Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Bus and Literacy Bus to offer alternatives to classroom learning spaces.
“While we would like to see all of these improvements happen sooner rather than later, we know that current supply chain issues may mean some delays,” Weakley County Schools Director Randy Frazier noted. “However, we are confident that just as our teachers and administrators have excelled in the worst days of the pandemic, making our students the priority, they will continue to meet the challenge and then welcome the new resources as they become available.”