The Nogales Unified School District has been awarded nearly $17.4 million in federal funds to help it safely reopen schools and recover learning loss due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and it’s seeking public input on its plans for spending the money.
The Elementary and Secondary School Relief (ESSER III) funds, allocated by Congress as part of the American Rescue Plan Act, are to be used during the next three school years and must be spent in their entirety by the end of September 2024.
At least 20 percent of the funding has to be used to help students recover from learning loss, while other funds must be set aside for programs, materials and professional development to address social-emotional needs, NUSD said in a news release.
Given these mandates, the district said, its allocation has been divided into three categories: operations, safety and security, and curriculum and instruction.
To address learning loss, the district has earmarked ESSER III funds for summer school at all grade levels – something NUSD implemented this summer, when it added elementary-level offerings to its traditional summer school slate and made all summer classes free of charge.
Other plans call for additional opportunities for expanded learning, such as targeted tutoring classes before or after the regular school day, and pull-out intervention time during a school day – efforts that can now be funded more robustly than before.
“Grant funding is also allocated to upgrade curriculum materials, such as textbooks, in all subject areas and for supplemental materials like workbooks and online programs that enhance direct teaching,” the district’s news release said.
On the operations side, the district said it has purchased new computing devices in order to give every student equal access to a device, and new laptops will be distributed to teachers through NUSD’s third-year rotation process to give them equipment they can use for instructional purposes on campus or at home.
ESSER III funds will also be used to improve ventilation systems and install hands-free faucets in all bathrooms. In addition, the district said, it will purchase automatic flush toilets and trough-like sinks “that are more easily accessed by those with disabilities while providing CDC-recommended social distancing.
“These renovations are needed to provide protection from viruses in areas where ‘touching’ is unavoidable without the modifications,” the news release said, adding that money will also be spent on sanitation supplies and personal protection equipment such as masks and gloves.
“While wearing a mask is no longer required due to the new state statute regarding students and staff on campus, NUSD is highly encouraging the practice,” Superintendent Fernando Parra said. (See related story at left.)
Also part of the safety portion of the plan: early releases every Wednesday to allow for a deep cleaning of all school facilities, in addition to the daily sanitizing of all areas.
“That time will also be used for intensive professional development for all staff to increase the use of data and assessments to ‘drill down’ so that the academic needs of every student are addressed through evidence-based strategies and best practices,” the news release said.
NUSD said its leadership team will continue to work with the instructional leaders at the schools, teacher groups, community representatives, its local health and medical advisory team, social agencies and the NUSD Governing Board to appropriately allocate the ESSER III funds.
“It is important to note that this is a living plan, that it must be reviewed and modified if need be at least every six months,” said NUSD Assistant Superintendent Angel Canto.
The ESSER III spending plan was presented at the governing board meeting on July 12, and a recording of the meeting is available to the public, the district said. Anyone with questions or comments can email Canto at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact the NUSD Office at (520) 397-7917.
The plan will be sent to the Arizona Department of Education as part of the grant approval process once district parents, students and community members have a chance to offer input on a final version, the district said.
“We really value the input from all stakeholders so that the expenditures reflect the will of the community while making sure all expenditures follow the requirements of the grant itself,” Canto said.
The complete spending plan will be uploaded to the NUSD website, Canto said.