On-demand tutoring 24/7 for students is one way that Gilbert Public Schools is helping address learning loss during the pandemic.
The district spent the summer taking input from stakeholders that included the public, parents and staff on how to use the $22 million in its third round of federal pandemic relief funding.
Besides the tutoring, other proposals for using those funds included teacher pay raises, more Chromebooks for K-6 students and updating curriculum.
“I just want to say there’s lots and lots of good things in there that will benefit our kids,” Board member Jill Humpherys said at the Sept. 14 work study. “And I really appreciate the hard work and the input that has been given by quite a few people on this.”
Unlike the previous two federal allocations, public and charter schools must use 20 percent of their funding to address learning loss resulting from the pandemic’s classroom disruptions.
GPS allocated $4.4 million toward that endeavor, including the on-demand tutoring for students in grades 7-12 for the next 18 months at a $1.2 million cost.
The intent is that students would be able to access help whenever it’s best for them whether it be in the evening, early in the morning or weekends, according to Dr. Barbara Newman, assistant superintendent of teaching and learning.
“We want a platform where our students are able to engage in real time with individuals rather than reviewing a video to find an answer,” she said, explaining it would offer “more of a Socratic approach…so that they understand the problem-solving process to get the answer so that they can apply it at a different time.”
Newman said the district also would look at data analytics so that teachers might know at the beginning of a day which students accessed it and for what reason “so that will inform their instruction for that very next day.”
Because the service would be 24/7, an outside vendor will be hired for the tutoring program.
“We know that our teachers are already taxed and are doing a lot of tutoring whether it be at lunchtime or immediately before school or immediately after school,” Newman said. “But we also know that students sometimes can’t always engage at that time so we would want to support kids whenever they are and that provides that access for them.”
Board member Bill Parker asked if the service will primarily be online or if teachers will be working with students, one-on-one.
Newman responded that the service would be more of an online chat format.
“We don’t want live video,” she said, noting the individuals would not be employed by the district but by the vendor and they will be vetted and trained.
Newman said GPS is working with other districts in order to get a good price when it comes time to issue a request for proposal from vendors. She anticipated bringing back to the board in October a proposal on purchasing a platform.
“This spend provides direct support to students when they need it outside of the school day,” Superintendent Shane McCord said, adding that the proposal garnered positive support from parents, staff and teachers.
That said, McCord added “There is always concern on how (students) utilize it or if they’ll utilize something like this and so we believe it’s our job to make sure that it’s promoted extremely well with our families and a lot of direction on how to access it and how to utilize moving forward.”
The biggest expense involving learning loss is adoption of an English language arts program for 10-12th grades at a one-time cost of $2 million.
McCord said the current resources are outdated by 20 years and “this will help us update those curriculum needs.”
Proposed spending also includes $450,000 for an assessment platform that would allow teachers to better assess student progress. It would add to what is already in place at the district.
“Basically, it’s what we use throughout the year to check for understanding and get a good gauge of where our students are,” McCord said. “Of course, when you’re addressing learning loss that’s one of the first things you have to do is discover where is the loss and this platform will help us moving forward.”
The district also is looking to extend learning opportunities for students outside the school day with programs, including after school, intersession and summer classes for K-12 up to three years at a cost of $700,000.
And, finally the district wants to spend $50,000 for a learning management system, which Newman described as a one-stop shop for access to information.
“The hardest thing about maneuvering through web pages is trying to find your information,” McCord said. “If we can narrow that down a little bit more for our parents and our students and our staff then we’re in better shape.”
The remainder of the pandemic relief funds – $17.6 million – is discretionary. The district plans on spending $7 million for a one-time 3-percent pay increase for teachers and $4.37 million for COVID mitigation stipends for teachers.
“That’s again to maintain the competitiveness in the East Valley,” McCord said.
Spending also included $1.6 million to update the English language arts curriculum for 7-9th grades; $300,000 to pay for the PSAT tests for 10th graders for two years and $2.9 million for Chromebooks for K-6 students.
The spending is contingent on the approval of the district’s application for the funding.
“Our application has been submitted it has been accepted but not approved yet,” McCord said. “I don’t know what the timeline is on that but hopefully, it’ll come sooner rather than later. And if there is any issue with our application of any sort, and that’s always a possibility, we’ll go back and revise it the way they request it to be. Hopefully we will get this process done as soon as possible.”
Public and charter schools must apply for the funding through the Arizona Department of Education, which is administering the state’s allotment of $2.6 billion.
The district would have until September 2024 to spend its approved allotment.
GPS has already spent its two previous ESSER distributions that totaled $12 million.