Here's how Fairfield schools plan to spend the $2.8M relief grant

File photo of a student heading off the bus and into McKinley Elementary School in Fairfield, Conn.

File photo of a student heading off the bus and into McKinley Elementary School in Fairfield, Conn.

Genevieve Reilly / Hearst Connecticut Media

FAIRFIELD — Hiring a diversity, equity, and inclusion administrator; developing curriculum; as well as providing more support for students and staff are all included in the school district’s federal relief budget.

Fairfield schools are set to get $2.8 million under the American Relief Plan and Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Plan. District officials presented its proposed budget for how to spend the federal grants at a recent special meeting.

The list was created based on feedback from the community, teachers and administrators. It also takes into consideration concerns that have been identified in the last year, Superintendent Mike Cummings said.

“This is an attempt to address those issues in a cohesive integrated fashion,” Cummings said.

He said it’s important to reconnect the district back to its mission statement to help every student.

“Our work has always been about fulfilling that mission and we see an opportunity in the funding that the ARP ESSER grant provides to accelerate our progress,” he added.

The grant requires 20 percent of the money be targeted to address incomplete learning, according to the budget presentation. The balance of $2.3 million is essentially split into five different categories that focus on learning, connections, technology, as well as students’ and staff’s social, emotional and mental health.

Officials hope to use the grant money to help student outcomes, while also avoiding “funding cliffs” when the money runs out. The grant must be used by 2024.

Cummings also said the district asked themselves several questions including what they needed to do by the beginning of the 24-25 school year so that they are a better school system, and how the funding can help transform the district.

“Essentially, what we’re saying is in order for students to come into the classroom and be ready to access learning we need to give them the skills in which to do that so we need to make sure that we’re providing the social and emotional supports that they need to be successful and we also need to be mindful of the fact that there are students who are going to need executive functioning skill development, organization work, self advocacy other things like that to best present themselves in the classroom,” Cummings said.

The funding budget includes investing $324,700 into social, emotional and executive functioning supports, as well as nearly $576,000 for after-school learning supports for grades six through 12.

Staff and community members spoke to the need to focus address social, emotional and mental health.

One statement in the presentation spoke on the general need to provide mental health resources because “rates of anxiety, depression and suicide among youth is at an all time high.” Another quote spoke to the need for teachers to be trained on how to address social emotional needs throughout the day, “not just in a health lesson.”

Another area of focus is investing in district-wide diversity, equity and inclusion efforts.

“This is about every student so this is [about] issues around racial diversity, economic diversity and social diversity,” Cummings said. “All of those things that we currently must address.”

The district plans to spend $480,000 for a diversity, equity and inclusion administrator, $101,800 for equity professional learning and $120,000 on a state residency program.

“If Fairfield Public Schools is truly going to be a school system that presents opportunity for all students, then we have to address the equity issues within the Fairfield Public School and that begins a lot with essentially our expectations for our self, our colleagues and our students,” Cummings added.

The budget also includes a series of professional learning opportunities, such as $69,500 to design assessments to improve instruction responses from students, $27,000 to develop several units in the middle school curriculum, $69,400 for data literacy and about $211,000 to develop a teacher evaluation system.

It dedicates $121,000 for structured literacy leadership $20,000 for elementary principal coaching, $36,000 for paraprofessional training and $10,000 for teacher action research.

Additional initiatives include laptops for 12th grade students and fixing the air conditioning units in the district.

The school board will now discuss the proposed grant uses before the Aug. 16 deadline to submit the detailed budget.

Cummings said school officials will reassess the budget every six months and reallocate money if needed.