by Danny Wade
Humboldt City Schools has been the benefactor of millions of dollars from federal and state funding. Last week, the state released their latest round of funding, Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER 3.0), where Humboldt will receive almost $4.5 million.
This is the third round of ESSER funding this school year. Humboldt received $432,000 in ESSER 1.0 funding, $1.9 million from ESSER 2.0 and now $4.46 million from ESSER 3.0.
Humboldt interim superintendent, Lillian Shelton, said ESSER 3.0 was made available as part of American Rescue Plan Act 2021 or more commonly called President Biden’s COVID Relief bill with a price tag of $1.9 trillion.
Jennifer Roten and Michelle Lewis of Humboldt City Schools Central Office worked on the grant application under Shelton’s guidance as a team.
Shelton said the next phase, ESSER 4.0, is already in the works as is another grant opportunity, homeless and special education, under the Individual Disabilities Education Act.
Roten said there are specific areas where ESSER 3.0 fund can be used. As mandated, 20-percent must be used to support learning loss. Interventions must respond to social, emotional and academic needs of students. Shelton said all the funds would be used to promote public health protocols with policies that align with CDC guidelines. Funds will be used to support Humboldt City Schools to reopen for traditional school next year and could roll over into the 22-23 school year.
With the plan for all students to attend school in person next year, there could be students and parents who may not feel comfortable with COVID still an issue. Shelton said Humboldt City Schools would still offer virtual learning. During a recent superintendents meeting, all schools in the county have a plan to prepare for virtual only students next year.
Lewis said in order to hold virtual school next year, a new school must be created. It is a massive undertaking with a long application to be completed.
Shelton said even if there is a small percentage of parents and students wanting to remain virtual, Humboldt City Schools will provide them that opportunity.
“It will be a different system than we currently use,” Shelton said of creating a new school for virtual only students. “There are lots of options we are looking in to, of how that school will look. I feel this is a wave of the future.”
This round of federal fund grant funds has specific areas where money can be used. Some of those areas include hazard pay for staff in the form of bonuses for taking on additional responsibilities due to the virus; sanitation strategies to continue to stop the spread of infectious diseases; repairs or improvements of facilities to reduce virus transmission; improving air quality; purchasing educational technology; provide mental health services and support; support for summer learning and afterschool programs; and to employ existing or new staff.
Lewis said the Tennessee Department of Education must approve all spending projects to assure guidelines of the grant are followed.
Shelton and her staff will once again offer a survey for students, parents and the public to have a say in how and where funds will improve the schools and student education. Their input from the surveys will be factored in the decision-making process of spending $4.46 million.
“We’re going to do what’s best for our students,” Shelton said. “We want our school system to be an environment where people will want to go.”
Shelton, Lewis and Roten said every school building has issues that need attention, including the alternative school at the old Ferrell St. school campus. All schools will get some much-needed renovations from the grant funds. Shelton said she has a lot of ideas for improvements.
Humboldt City Schools received another grant but nowhere near the size of ESSER funding. But it will help students in this virtual learning world.
Roten said the school system received $11,700 from a T-Mobile grant to purchase 117 hotspot devices to provide internet access for students that do not have internet at home. The grant also provides the school system with $24,000 worth of connectivity fees, enough to provide data plans for several months.
Lewis said this grant had a lengthy application with 70 essay questions.