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State releases sweeping blueprint for recovering learning lost during pandemic

State Education Commissioner Betty Rosa said the use

State Education Commissioner Betty Rosa said the use of federal stimulus money "will help us address gaps that were exacerbated by the pandemic, focusing on the students that were most impacted." Credit: Hans Pennink

State school officials released a sweeping proposal Tuesday for recovering academic learning lost during the COVID-19 pandemic — an effort to be supported by more than a half-billion dollars in federal stimulus money for Long Island's schools alone.

The 83-page state plan, which requires Washington's approval, lists three main priorities to be pursued starting this summer. These include addressing lost instructional time and closing academic performance gaps; providing emotional support for students; and using "evidence-based" interventions such as tutoring to deal with those in greatest need of support.

In drafting their educational blueprint, state authorities said they drew on online comments of nearly 5,000 parents, teachers and others statewide, including 600 in Nassau and Suffolk counties.

What to know

  • The state on Tuesday submitted New York’s American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ARP ESSER) Fund plan.
  • The nearly $9 billion in federal funding is being made available to New York State to support schools in safely reopening and sustaining safe operations while meeting the academic, social, emotional and mental health needs of students resulting from the pandemic. 
  • The 83-page state plan, which requires Washington's approval, lists three main priorities to be pursued starting this summer: addressing lost instructional time and closing academic performance gaps; providing emotional support for students; and using "evidence-based" interventions such as tutoring to deal with those in greatest need of support.

 

Repairing scholastic damage caused by nearly 14 months of intermittent school closings during the pandemic won't be easy, state planners acknowledged.

Their survey indicated widespread public dissatisfaction with remote learning that was forced upon schools as a health precaution. The issue is especially pronounced in low-income neighborhoods, where many families lack access to reliable Wi-Fi connections.

Among the top educational needs picked by survey respondents in the Nassau-Suffolk region was an emphasis on increasing reading and writing skills in the early grades, with systematic monitoring of results. Other highlighted needs were school schedules consisting of five full days of study each week, combined with in-person learning for all students.

Bill Heidenreich, president of the Nassau County Council of School Superintendents, said the plan "provides a much-needed investment in our educational system."

"When we talk about the learning loss — districts are looking at creating summer programs or Saturday academies or providing tutoring services to address these gaps, and that all comes with a financial cost," said Heidenreich, superintendent of the Valley Stream Central High School district.

"I was pleased to see a component to address social and emotional health needs — that is another major area of concern especially for remote learners," he added.

State Education Commissioner Betty Rosa, in introducing the state recommendations, said the use of federal stimulus money provided by President Joe Biden's American Rescue Plan "will help us address gaps that were exacerbated by the pandemic, focusing on the students that were most impacted."

"I am pleased that the voices of those who have been on the front lines of the pandemic are included in our State Plan as we prepare for the start of the 2021-22 school year," said Lester W. Young Jr., chancellor of the state's Board of Regents.

A Newsday review last month found that extra funding for the Island will include not only the latest federal stimulus of $529 million, but also $327 million from an earlier congressional bailout, as well as $417 million in new state aid.

Ron Masera, superintendent of the Center Moriches school district, said his system, which enrolls about 1,500 students, will offer more summer programming. Masera expects that stimulus money spent on academics, as well as social and emotional learning, will stretch over multiple school years. The district received about $3 million in federal funds.

The district will run a summer catch-up program, but also courses that support English language learners. It will run a summer program to connect kids to their schools offering enrichment in different areas such as athletics and the arts.

"The state did a nice job of seeking input from all stakeholders, from parents to administrators to teachers, to craft a plan to address those areas that people thought were most important," said Masera, who serves as president of the Suffolk County School Superintendents Association. "What we will attempt to do is find out where the discrepancies are and how can we best fill those gaps."

Julie Lutz, who represents Suffolk County school superintendents on the Long Island Education Coalition and is chief operating officer of Eastern Suffolk BOCES, said Tuesday that the State Education Department has always been thoughtful in focusing on "the fact that we have equity issues in educating students from a distance, and I think their plan is a really good attempt to address those equity issues."

She anticipates that funding could stretch over multiple years as districts are already deeply in the budgeting process for 2021-22.

"Everybody understands students are not going to fill any potential gaps that they have had in one year," she said.

Eastern Suffolk BOCES operates several summer enrichment programs for districts, and Lutz said there has been an increase in interest. She said she expects districts to offer Academic Intervention Services, or AIS, and small group tutoring, and the "kind of academic supports that districts do well — they now will have more money to do ventilation or technology upgrades."

The Long Island Coalition represents school boards, school business officials, PTA leaders, superintendents, BOCES and representatives of the New York State United Teachers union.

Freeport Superintendent Kishore Kuncham said the plan provides "a great opportunity for us to be able to utilize these funds to address the gaps and the challenges we have ahead of us as we return to normalcy."

Among the efforts underway in the district are an expanded summer school, a greater focus on social and emotional learning, and the possibility of small-group instruction starting in the fall. The district is also looking at bringing in reading specialists to target specific grades and students who may need help.

The district, slated for more than roughly $28 million in federal funding, also plans to upgrade its technology and perform a curriculum review, he said, adding the district is looking at the possibility of improving facilities, too.

Plans for educational recovery drafted by New York and other states are based largely on federal requirements.

One set of U.S. guidelines issued late last month prioritizes safe reopening of schools and maximum in-person instructional time for all students, with a focus on students of color and those struggling with poverty and disabilities.

Under state rules, the 124 districts on Long Island, as well as others statewide, will be required to post local plans for safe returns to school in September. Also required are plans to make up for lost instructional time through programs validated by research, including summer tutoring and enriched coursework, extended school days, comprehensive after-school sessions or extended school years.

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