School Funding

Fargo Schools Hire 65 Staff to Help Solve ‘Learning Losses’ and Other Problems


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At least that’s how HR Director Doug Andring describes it as they try to finish filling around 65 additional positions by the fall to help with the learning loss identified over the past year. year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“We have a lot of jobs,” he said.

The additional positions are possible thanks to three rounds of federal COVID-19 relief funding passed by Congress. Through the state’s Department of Education, Fargo Public Schools have received approximately $ 46 million that they can use over the next three years or until September 30, 2024.

The last package provided the biggest share of money with almost $ 30 million.

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Knowing the money was coming, Superintendent Rupak Gandhi and others formed a team to create plans for the funds with input from principals, teachers, parents and students.

Business manager Jackie Gapp, who has the difficult task of tracking help and filling out requests, said the focus was on finding ways to help students who have suffered academically since the virus closed in-person classes as of March 2020.

“It’s a living document to find out what works,” Gapp said, as they take it a year, and sometimes a day, at a time.

So far, they have decided to strengthen the academic and behavioral support staff for the approximately 11,000 students in the district.

All plans require final state DPI approval, although Deputy State Superintendent Laurie Matzke said the guidelines are broad. While Fargo is spending money to help with learning loss and social and emotional issues, as well as accelerated learning, she said, the plan fits the guidelines well.

Matzke said local districts with stakeholder input are the best source for deciding how to use the additional funding, adding that tackling the learning loss due to the pandemic is also a state priority.

The approximately 65 positions added to the Fargo plan include:

  • Nineteen academic interventionists who will help students in need and assist teaching staff. Andring said the majority of the positions have been filled, mostly with existing teachers who have taken on a new challenge. This surprised Andring, he said, adding that because of this there were also more classroom teaching positions open. There are 14 interventionists in elementary school and five in secondary school.
  • About thirty long-term substitute teachers who will sign agreements with the districts. Andring said there were 47 such positions over the past school year to not only help with maternity leave and other regular leaves, but also to fill when other instructors needed to quarantine or test positive for the coronavirus. He said they were also in the process of filling those positions.
  • Almost four full-time college match coaches. Students seem to have suffered the most in math during the pandemic months, according to Gapp and Andring, and they need help catching up.
  • Two positions to help in the gifted and talented program.
  • Three social workers who will join a team already in place working with families and students on issues they may encounter that may affect their academic performance.
  • Six registered behavioral technicians who will work throughout the district to help resolve behavioral issues.

Andring said he posted job postings “in waves” so as not to “overwhelm” the hiring process.

Gapp said the time spent planning and implementing aid has also been a heavy load.

“We will be evaluating how it works from year to year,” Andring said, as most of the money can be spent over the next three years.

First aid arrived last spring when federal funds totaled $ 3.27 million. Gapp said most of that was spent with about $ 1 million for elementary students’ computers to take home for learning and about $ 1.5 million for additional staff needed during the first days of the pandemic.

Some of the funds were postponed and the second round of funding totaled $ 13.34 million. The district continued to work on equipment such as software to better track and collect data on academics and air quality improvements at Ben Franklin Middle School and McKinley Elementary School. They have also invested funds for professional development needs and support staff to help with the first phase of treatment for learning loss.

The latest round of aid of nearly $ 30 million allowed the district to create additional positions to help students catch up.

Teachers also needed welfare assistance during the pandemic, and they are working on ways to continue to address those issues, Gapp said.

Statewide, Matzke said, schools have received $ 413 million over three rounds of what is known as the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund to distribute to school districts. The allocation was heavily based on the number of students in the free and reduced meal programs.

She said DPI has withheld about 10% of the funding to be used at the state level and plans for that $ 46 million will be decided by June 30. Public comments over the past few weeks, she said, ranged from “giving back the money” to “using it to help students.”

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