Why AISD plans to spend $2.1M over 3 years

Athens ISD is preparing to launch an aggressive academic recovery program. Find out how and why.

  
0:00
-21:34
By Toni Garrard Clay/AISD Communications Coordinator

Have you heard of “the COVID-19 slide”? Much like “the summer slide,” which describes the tendency of many students to lose some academic gains over the course of a summer, the COVID slide refers to the loss of learning caused by the pandemic during the spring of 2020 when there was no alternative to remote learning. The Texas Education Agency estimates Texas students lost 5.2 months — that’s not counting the typical summer slide. All told, Athens ISD believes many students have experienced at least an 8-month learning loss, and some as much as a year. Ignoring that loss is not an option worth considering.

In response, the district is preparing to launch an aggressive academic recovery program, which will cost $2.1 million over the next three years. Listen to Superintendent Dr. Janie Sims, Assistant Superintendent Jami Ivey, and Board of Trustees President Eugene Buford as they discuss the highlights of the recovery program, why it’s needed, and where the funds are coming from.

Highlights from the podcast:

At 5:40 — The district’s COVID-19 rates have been remarkably low, especially recently. There were only two known cases of the virus in March, and at the time the podcast was recorded (April 6), only one positive case was known.

At 6:10 — To help students recover from lost learning, additional staff is required. The seven-member school board “overwhelmingly and unanimously” approved $2.1 million to be spent over the next three years from the district’s fund balance (AKA “savings”). That’s $700,000 per year.

At 6:52 — “Our board, those men and women, stepped up and sent a very clear message that our students and their loss of learning is our number-one priority. I’ve not seen anything like it. … I’ve never seen that kind of commitment from a board for academics,” says Dr. Sims.

At 8:00 — Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath shared data indicating effective tutoring can regain 5 months of lost learning. “To be effective, it has to be during our school day. … The good news is Athens already has time built in. We did that two years ago. Most districts don’t,” said Mrs. Ivey.

At 8:52 — Tutoring alone is not enough to fill the COVID gap. You have to have students in front of content-specific teachers. On the elementary level, the district already has a reading interventionist and a math interventionist at each campuses. In the upcoming school year, AISD is adding one more of each, as well as creating the position of district wide reading and math specialist. A specialist will provide campus interventionists with the best instructional practices, guidance and resources available. All told, there will be seven new positions created at the elementary level.

At 11:00 — At the middle and high school campuses, the district will be adding one additional math teacher and one additional ELAR teacher (that’s English, language arts & reading) at each campus. This will decrease class sizes for more intensive instruction. Within the PINNACLE Early College High School program, the district will hire a teacher to focus on providing ECHS students with rigorous instruction and support, so they have the skills to complete college courses successfully. At the secondary level, that means hiring five new teachers.

At 12:08 — “We have to have teachers who can come in and make an immediate impact,” said Dr. Sims, as she explains how the district arrived at the $700,000 per year price tag.

At 13:39 — In addition to creating new positions, the district plans to introduce a summer enrichment program in 2021, as well as expansion of Friday tutorials, and an academic “jump start” program to help students get a jump start on foundational skills or lost academic content.

At 14:17 — Dr. Sims explains why AISD has purposefully chosen not to expand the traditional summer school schedule in 2021. “Our principals and teacher leaders did not feel this was the summer to do an expansion of summer school. … We want to try to get everybody renewed after this crazy year we’ve been through, and we probably will expand summer school in the summer of 2022,” says Dr. Sims.

At 16:18 — “The monetary factor was big in our decision. However, anytime you invest in children, it’s a good investment,” says Board President Mr. Buford. “It appears to be a good plan; it sets up everyone to be successful.”

At 20:00 — Principals are excited to have additional resources on their campuses and to have the full support of the board. “They’re very excited about this plan,” said Mrs. Ivey.

At 20:30 — Our top priority is academic recovery, but the district is looking at other options as well, including classroom safety features and upgrades to technology. “This is just the first big step,” says Dr. Sims.

•••••

While you’re here, do you have a necktie you’d be willing to donate to Athens High School? If so, please drop it off at either Athens High School or the administration building.