Daniel Zhao, Senior Photographer

After receiving feedback from about 775 stakeholders in the New Haven Public Schools community, Assistant Superintendent Keisha Redd-Hannans presented the Board of Education with NHPS’ spending proposal for $37.8 million in federal grant dollars.

In December 2020, the federal government passed its second fiscal stimulus package. This included the ESSER II grant — federal COVID-19-related relief for school districts around the country. NHPS is slated to receive the $37.8 million under the ESSER II program and hopes to use it for additional temporary hires, programming and classroom materials.

“We’ve had great turnout from all of our stakeholders,” Redd-Hannans said. “Several ideas were shared at these meetings, and we made sure to capture them as best as we can.”

The district held four community focus groups in late February and early March to receive input from the community on how to spend the federal aid. The groups focused on four distinct priority areas — addressing pandemic-era learning loss, bolstering family and community connections, increasing equitable access to technology and emphasizing health and safety.

On Monday evening, Redd-Hannans presented the expected ESSER II spending plan to the Board of Education. The assistant superintendent broke down the district’s key findings from the focus groups by priority area.

A screenshot of goals from the first priority group presented at the BOE meeting. (Photo: Christian Robles, Contributing Photographer)

In order to mitigate learning loss caused by virtual classes, the district is proposing large investments in temporary staff and new programming.

Redd-Hannans said that NHPS wanted to hire 87 new teachers for grades one, two and three, in addition to three additional college and career coordinators. She noted that the additional teachers would help reduce NHPS class sizes and allow students to receive more individualized instruction.

Superintendent Iline Tracey clarified that any new district hires would be strictly temporary, and these individuals would be relieved of their duties when the ESSER II money expires in June 2023. Tracey also pointed out that at this time, none of the items on the district’s wish list have a concrete price tag and are subject to change based on Board of Education feedback.

A screenshot of goals from the second priority group presented at the BOE meeting. (Photo: Christian Robles, Contributing Photographer)

In regard to bolstering family and community connections, Redd-Hannans said that the district is proposing using the funding to hire six new care coordinators, district employees who work with students and families to fulfill a wide range of essential needs. Two new restorative coaches — experts who work with teachers and principals to reduce student suspensions — are also included in the district’s plans.

To increase school safety and the social-emotional health of its students, Redd-Hannans said the district wants to hire three new counselors, three social workers and three psychologists.

She also stated that NHPS hopes to integrate social-emotional learning into its school curriculum with ESSER II funds. Other items under this priority area include investments in personal protective equipment, water bottle filling stations and CO2 sensors.

On closing the digital divide, a number of purchases were proposed — including professional development on hybrid learning and new PCs for teachers, as well as new headphones and Chromebook tablets for students. Redd-Hannans also emphasized the need to invest in a new “data dashboard,” which would contain information on students districtwide to inform the decisions of policymakers.

A screenshot of goals from the third priority group presented at the BOE meeting. (Photo: Christian Robles, Contributing Photographer)

Redd-Hannans also said that the district wanted to use ESSER II dollars to have a “summer of fun” this year.

“We want to make learning fun, we want to make the enrichment activities hands-on and as fun as possible to reengage students in the learning process,” she said. “We want students to experience hiking, play outdoors, arts and crafts, recreation activities.”

BOE member Tamiko Jackson-McArthur expressed her concerns that the district plans to have in-person summer school. She said that for some families, it would be “emotionally impossible” to send their children back to school for in-person learning during the pandemic.

However, Tracey clarified that the in-person summer school proposal is subject to public health conditions and that the district will explore the possibility of having a remote summer school option. She added that the district is currently determining how many teachers would be willing to teach over the summer, which may influence the final decision on summer school.

At Monday’s meeting, Tracey and other board members expressed gratitude to the district for its comprehensive proposal, while also making suggestions about the plans.

“Up to now, we feel good about the process,” Tracey said. “And we feel good about what is written. It’s a lot of work.”

A screenshot of goals from the fourth priority group presented at the BOE meeting. (Photo: Christian Robles, Contributing Photographer)

According to Tracey, some of the district’s proposed ideas can be financed later and for a longer period of time by the American Rescue Plan — a federal law which contains more aid for school districts. New Haven is slated to receive $94 million from the rescue plan.

NHPS officials will present their proposed ESSER II expenditures to the Connecticut Department of Education, which will review them before approval, on April 19.

Christian Robles | christian.robles@yale.edu

CHRISTIAN ROBLES
Christian Robles covers education & youth services. He is a sophomore in Davenport College studying Political Science and Economics.