WEST HARTFORD — Hiring more specialists and staff were among the highlights for how the district plans to spend the nearly $15 million it will receive in federal relief grants.

The bulk of the plan, which will be implemented over the course of the next three years, commits more than $9 million to academic renewal and learning acceleration. The money comes from the federal government’s Elementary and Secondary Schools Emergency Relief fund.

A significant portion of that went to reducing class sizes to create more physical distancing inside the classroom, Paul Vicinus, the assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, said at a recent school board meeting.

“We were able to hire more teachers across all levels and essentially operate below our class size guidelines,” Vicinus told the board of education. “That’s already in place.”

Vicinus said he was most excited about expanding the number of specialists the district was able to hire with the grant funding, including those who specialize in reading and math.

“We were able to hire an additional reading interventionist teacher,” Vicinus said. “Given what we expected and knew to be a larger academic need this year, we hired an additional reading interventionist teacher full time, so two schools didn’t need to split a half-time person.”

Vicinus worked on allocating the funds along with Andrew Morrow, the assistant superintendent for administration; Roszena Haskins, the director of equity advancement; Melissa Caballero, the director of pupil services; and Elizabeth Hewitt, the director of budget and finance.

In their process, he said, they wanted to make sure they aligned with the spirit of the grants.

“You think about the spirit of what this was after, we wanted the bulk of the money going to academic renewal and acceleration,” Vicinus said.

Vicinus said it was clear extra support was going to be needed since some students were remote for all of last year and older students were hybrid for most of the year.

“We know there is some learning loss there and that there’s going to be a greater need for intervention,” Vicinus said. “The state outlines it in their plan. We’re really subscribing to it. They talk about learning acceleration. We’re getting these kids back and they do have some gaps. We need to be attentive to those gaps. We have to lift some of the students up and get them onto track.”

Vicinus said they addressed some of that over the summer, with an all-new middle school program that focused on literacy, math and engagement. They also reshaped the summer elementary school program to address those needs.

He also said another big part of their plan is to address social emotional learning and social justice.

“We did hire some additional social workers,” Vicinus said “We’re trying to attend to the 360 degrees of what the needs of kids will be as they come back.”

The money comes through in three grants over the course of three years. In addition to the nearly $9.2 million going towards academic renewal and learning acceleration, more than $1.4 million will be allocated for social emotional and mental health, nearly $1.5 million for family and community connections, about $650,000 for educational equity and diversity, $425,000 for staff development and professional learning and nearly $1.8 million for safe and healthy schools.

“We’re extremely grateful,” Vicinus said. “It’s a huge benefit for all districts. We’re very glad to be able to participate and we’re just trying to be good stewards of the money. In all of our budgeting...(Superintendent Tom Moore) talks about trying to keep the money as close to kids as possible. We’re always trying to keep hits in the budget far away from the classroom.”

Connecticut Media Group