The Burlington Public Schools Administration will use federal funding to create 10 new positions to help with the transition to a full in-person school year and to meet other student needs after a year upended by the pandemic.
Superintendent Eric Conti and Assistant Superintendent Patrick Larkin outlined the plans during Tuesday night’s School Committee meeting. They said some of the new positions would likely be temporary while others would likely be folded into the school budget in FY23 after the federal funds expire.
Superintendent Conti said the district is set to receive approximately $890,000 in federal funding through the Recovery Act Positions and Plan ESSR3. He said while some districts are using the funds for programming the leadership in Burlington felt it was better to bring in new people with expertise to help students transition back to school in September. The funds can be used over the next two fiscal years, at which time any of the positions they wish to keep on would have to be funded through the department’s operating budget.
Assistant Superintendent Larkin outlined the positions for the committee. He said the positions are meant to tend to both the mental health of students and fill in holes in curriculum.
“The need for recovery positions is both academic and social/emotional,” he said. “There are students who have not attended school in person since last March. We need to assess all students and develop individual plans for any student needing support to return to their grade level peers.”
The issue, he said, is there are a lot of unknowns about what students will need to be successful.
“Our challenge is that we do not know the numbers of these students as of yet,” he explained. “These additional resources will be focused on integrating into our existing student resources and ensuring that every student receives what they need in regards to returning to in person learning.”
Larkin provided the list of proposed positions to BNEWS with the explanation for why each is needed as they see it. They are as follows:
Director of Recovery – Position to oversee student recovery, 12 month position.
The Director of Recovery will be a 12 month position responsible for coordinating the district’s recovery resources and directing them where needed. This position will work with students and families from PreK through grade 12. The district had success in providing separate administrative support for our elementary remote academy. This separate support allowed principals to focus on delivering the current curriculum. This position will work closely with Principals, the Director of Special Education, the Director of ELL Learning, the Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, the proposed Director of Mental Health, and the proposed Director of Literacy.
Home and School Cultural Liaison – Jennifer Knight – 12 month position
Our cultural parents liaison has had a head start in that she has been working in the district since January. This position will focus on ensuring that all families can access district resources and to help families reconnect to in-person learning. We are predicting an increase in school refusal and student anxiety with a return to in-person learning. This position will work closely with Principals, the Director of Special Education, the Director of ELL Learning, the Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, the proposed Director of Mental Health, and the proposed Director of Literacy.
District Mental Health Coordinator/Director – Operating Budget
The pandemic school year resulted in an increased number of student hospitalizations and the need for more mental health support. We are predicting that this increase will continue into the near future as students adjust back to in person learning. This position will work closely with Principals, the Director of Special Education, the Director of ELL Learning, the Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, the proposed Director of Mental Health, and the proposed Director of Literacy
There is a need for the coordination of mental health support from PreK through 12. The district has resources. The community has resources. There are resources available from private providers. All of these resources need to be coordinated to reach and serve the maximum number of students.
District Literacy Coordinator/Director – Operating Budget
The need to create a coherent sequence of learning expectations in literacy from PreK through 12 has only grown since the pandemic. Our fall district assessments will be more critical than ever to help classroom teachers and support specialists to target student needs especially with students who have been out of classrooms since last March. This position will work closely with Principals, the Director of Special Education, the Director of ELL Learning, the Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, the proposed Director of Mental Health, and the proposed Director of Literacy.
In addition, the state’s new dyslexia guidelines have generated many questions about our literacy programs and framework. This Director of Literacy will communicate with parents to establish how Burlington’s reading framework meets the state’s new guidelines and recommend any adjustments that are needed.
BHS Recovery Counselor – Guidance Office (ESSR3)
As mentioned, student case loads at the high school are increasing. This position will help to provide an additional counseling resource to work with our neediest students.
BHS School Adjustment Counselor – Bridge Room (ESSR3)
This position will help to address the increasing caseload of students needing social emotional/mental health support at BHS. While the Director of Mental Health will continue to carry a modified student caseload, this position will ensure that we are increasing the direct services to students and not reducing these much needed services.
Elementary Reading/Math Specialist – Fox Hill (ESSR3)
This position will move us closer to equity in the support we need to provide Fox Hill students given the student enrollment growth at Fox Hill.
MSMS 0.6 FTE School Psychologist/0.4 Team Chair – (ESSR3)
This position will help to address the additional social emotional/mental health issues we are predicting for the fall return to in person learning. In addition, this position will help to balance out the Team Chair caseloads between schools. The middle school numbers have been growing and the school needs additional Team Chair support.
Special Education Teacher – Pine Glen (ESSR3)
We have a growing need for an additional special education teacher at Pine Glen given the number of students requiring specialized instruction returning to in person learning.
English Language Learning Teacher – Fox Hill (ESSR3)
Growing numbers of ELL students require an additional ELL teacher. This position would provide two teachers at every level and allow for more balanced scheduling so that ELL students can maximize their time in our core curriculum and help with their recovery back to in person learning.
There was some mixed reaction from the School Committee at the proposal to create so many new positions. Member Martha Simon said she was in favor of the move.
“I think this plan is well thought out and all these positions sound crucial and I’m in support of what you proposed tonight,” she said.
However, member Christine Monaco was not as convinced.
“I’m very uncomfortable bringing in so many people,” she said. “I can hear it now, ‘the school committee goes crazy and brings in so many people.’ Do we really need that many people?”
Superintendent Conti said he thought the district did need the positions outlined.
“I think so or I wouldn’t be proposing them,” he said. “We are preparing for the fall and we have 600 students who have been learning remotely for 15-16 months. From everything we’re seeing and reading there will be a lot of adjustment to that return and we’re preparing for that adjustment. Nobody will be underutilized or looking for work, we can utilize everybody.”
In the end the committee voted to support the plan.