Setting Your Success on Student Success


Setting Your Sights on Student Success
Connecting ESSER Funding to Education Outcomes

By Susan Harkin
Comm. Unit Sch. Dist. 300

David Hill, Ed.D.
Comm. Cons. Sch. Dist. 93

Curtis Saindon
Asst. Supt./Business, CSBO
Woodridge Elem. SD 68

Schools and states across the country have been allocated significant financial resources from the American Recovery Program’s Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ARP ESSER) Fund. School districts need to be strategic and timely in making decisions on how to best utilize these funds. The best way to determine how to spend the funds is relatively straightforward. In practice, however, it may feel more challenging because these funds are new, the grant timeline is quick and there is a much broader range of possibilities compared to other federal education grant programs. Read on to learn how three districts have allocated their ESSER funds to support school operations and educational outcomes.

Community Consolidated School District 93 (CCSD93)
Enrollment: 3,700 students
Budget: $76M
ESSER Funding: Approx. $4.8M

CCSD93 has used the following framework to plan for the spending of the district allocated ESSER funds:
First, we determined local needs and identified a set of potential approaches to meeting those needs.
Second, we did our research to determine what was possible and what is not feasible.
Third, we surveyed our community in an effort to align our needs with the needs identified by our families.
Finally, we prioritized spending in a cost-effective manner.

As we worked to determine local needs to identify potential approaches, we listed the following two categories to focus our planning: cleaning/sanitizing and student learning loss. Those two categories helped us determine what was important to maintain in-person learning in a healthy and safe environment while also recognizing and appreciating that learning gaps exist for our students as a result of the global pandemic.

We then took our potential approaches and gathered information on how financial resources could be spent to improve the cleaning and sanitizing of classrooms and spaces across the district. We began our research by conducting an inventory of all cleaning equipment to determine the quantity and quality of our existing cleaning machines. This exercise revealed that many of our vacuums, cleaning machines, floor scrubbers, etc. had gotten old and were not as efficient and reliable as they were when new. Cleaning was a priority for us, so vendors were contacted to obtain pricing to purchase new and more efficient 
cleaning machines.

Sanitizing was another approach that we believed was important. In addition to new equipment, ESSER funds were also used to purchase masks, sanitizer, gloves and other supplies necessary to clean and sanitize our buildings. Additionally, we needed to develop a process to sanitize/ionize a classroom or space after a positive COVID-19 diagnosis was confirmed. The next step was to conduct research on possible solutions to sanitize/ionize a classroom quickly and efficiently. As a result of our work, vendors were contacted to provide demonstrations, pricing and availability of machines in an effort to ionize classrooms and spaces quickly and efficiently after a positive COVID-19 case.

Addressing Learning Loss
Learning loss was also a critical priority for these financial resources. It was determined that our district wanted to use some of the available funds to provide opportunities for students to receive different interventions/opportunities to close some of those learning gaps and provide social and emotional support. The following programs were researched, discussed and ultimately implemented in our district:
Summer school for two consecutive years, offered to four hundred targeted students, focused on improvement in English Language Arts and math state standards.

  • Providing stipend opportunities for teachers to provide before and after school tutoring for our students who we knew needed additional help in a variety of subject areas.
  • Hiring additional licensed staff positions to reduce class sizes in primary grade levels to ensure that fundamentals were reinforced with our youngest learners.
  • Restorative circle training for staff to implement daily community circles in each classroom designed to provide social and emotional support for our students.
These are just a few examples of how CCSD93 is spending ESSER funds to help minimize learning loss and accelerate academic growth. CCSD93 has worked hard, throughout this ESSER grant process, to identify specific uses for the funds all designed to help our students maximize their academic, social and emotional potential.

Woodridge Elementary School District 68
Enrollment: 3,000 students
Budget: $54M
ESSER Funding: Approx. $4.5M

When COVID-19 hit us like a tidal wave back in February/March of 2020, we, like many other school districts were ill prepared to transition to remote learning on a moments’ notice. Initially we thought we might be off through Spring Break and then back in school. Looking back, we really had no clue how big and all-consuming this pandemic would become for our nation and the world. When the Governor initially declared a statewide school shutdown in mid-March it allowed us a little time to evaluate what we needed to do to provide real remote learning options for our students. We were not a one-to-one school district, and we did not send devices home every night with our students, but instead left them at school on charging carts in the classrooms overnight. ESSER COVID Relief funding, whether through the CARES Act, CRSSA, or the most recent aid package through the ARP Act, all helped us deal with different aspects of providing educational services for our students while also addressing the unique needs created by the pandemic. To briefly put that funding in perspective, we are an elementary school district of just under 3,000 students in DuPage County, with just under 40% low income, and we received about $300K in round one, about $1.2M in round two and about $3M in round three.

Our initial ESSER I monies were directed toward purchasing additional Chromebooks so we could get to full one-to-one status and buying cases so they could safely be transported home. We also purchased some online and distance learning software and curricular supports to assist with remote learning. Additionally, we broke down our charging carts and bought some additional charging bricks to ensure that all devices could be charged remotely at home. Finally, we helped our low-income families secure adequate internet service by partnering with Comcast to provide a year of free service to our low-income families.

ESSER II funds were used during the 2020-2021 school year to provide additional teachers to allow for hybrid learning, where some students were in-person (about 80 percent) while others remained at home (about 20 percent). We hired 15 additional teachers to support remote learning. We also provided for some additional curricular and SEL supports to help our students cope with their current situation and prepare to transition back to in-person learning.

ESSER III funds will be spent this school year and next, and will focus on reducing class size, especially in the early elementary grade levels, to help combat learning loss and get our kids back on track. We hired 20 additional teachers this year and we expect to keep as many as possible onboard next year with the leftover funding available at year-end. We are also providing a “jump start” summer school this year and next year, as well as additional “after school specials” programming, to provide additional academic supports to those most in need. Finally, we are ramping up our SEL efforts and keeping a keen eye on the mental health of our students and our staff.

In closing, we moved from technology supports to hybrid/remote learning supports to addressing learning loss with ESSER relief funds, and all our efforts were intended to help students cope with the effects of the pandemic and then recover from the impact of the pandemic.

Community Unit School District 300 (CCSD300)
Enrollment: 20,357 students
Budget: $348M
ESSER Funding: Approx. $30M

Throughout the pandemic, District 300 has focused on using ESSER funds to keep our staff and students safe and provide academic support to our students. At this point, the district has spent all of its ESSER I funding, has committed its ESSER II funding, and is making plans for using ESSER III funding.

For ESSER I funding, like most districts, these funds were used to purchase PPE and provide additional supervision/ staffing to return our students to their classrooms after the winter break. In most cases, we needed to quickly make decisions to ensure we had the PPE in place when students returned. There was not much stakeholder involvement during this time.

For ESSER II funding, the administrative team focused on determining what educational supports would be necessary for our students when they returned in the fall. The district looked at providing core instruction support in our primary grades at our elementary schools and interventionists for our middle and high schools. Once an instructional support model was developed, the plan was reviewed with our building principals for their input and revised accordingly.

For ESSER III funding, the district focused its attention on addressing the challenges of bringing 100 percent of our students back. That funding has included paying and hiring staff to assist with a testing clinic to support our test to stay program. We have hired additional staff in our buildings to enforce COVID-19 prevention strategies such as case management and masking policies. We have purchased additional PPE, such as HEPA filters, due to our buildings’ increased number of students. Our initial ESSER III funding has allowed us to make purchases to keep our students 
safe in our facilities.

As we enter our third school operating under COVID-19, we are just beginning to understand where our students are academically and emotionally. As we gain knowledge about our students and by dialoguing with our principals, we will determine what support should look like. We have also solicited community feedback on the use of ESSER
III dollars on the district website. This fall, we began to solicit input from our principals and our community to determine how the remaining ESSER III funding will be used. Due to District 300’s large ESSER III dollar allocation, we are also looking at the possibility of facility enhancements to improve our HVAC systems to align with COVID-19 
ventilation recommendations.

One of the biggest challenges associated with ESSER dollars will be when these funds are no longer available. One will wonder what COVID protocols will never go 
away post-pandemic. We know that going through an airport is vastly different post-911. If our COVID protocols become the norm, they may, unfortunately, be a drain on all of our budgets moving forward, and at what expense to our current programs?