Benjamin Russell High School

File / The Outlook

Alexander City Schools is using its federal relief funding to hire a new fleet of personnel aimed at tackling the learning loss that resulted in 208 failures this past school year.

According to Superintendent Dr. Keith Lankford, the number of students failing one or more classes was higher than any other year.

"It is a gap; it is a big gap," Lankford told the board of education Tuesday. "When we look at the number of failures, it's a scary thing and I want everybody to understand that's not concentrated in Alexander City. This is national, if not global, the effects (the pandemic) is going to have, and we will see these ongoing."

As part of its second round of COVID-19 relief, the federal government allocated Alex City Schools $3,725,361 in Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER II) funding to address learning loss. Much of that was spent on temporary personnel, including 11 interventionists across all grade levels, two Alexander City Middle School teachers, three math instructional coaches, one online facilitator, one ACMS counselor "to help us address those middle school issues" and one family and community engagement coordinator. The latter is intended to teach parents how they can help their kids at home.

Spending on intervention teachers comes at the suggestion of the U.S. Department of Education, which allocated the funds, as a proven counteractive against the backsliding students suffered during the pandemic. Last month Tallapoosa County Schools superintendent Ray Porter said the school district would also bring on 12 face-to-face interventionists.

As ESSER II funding must be used by fall 2023, all hires are temporary.

"They would come in knowing that this would be maybe a two-year stint at most," deputy superintendent Dr. Beverly Price told school board members.

On top of the $3.7 million already budgeted, Alex City Schools is about to receive another $8,366,533 in ESSER III funding, the third wave of COVID-19 relief, which Price said they will also use to make up for the learning impacts of the pandemic. But first Alex City Schools must come up with a spending plan for the state's approval.

"We've got a lot of money but we have a lot of needs," Price said.

While all federal funding is temporary — including the salaries of the 19 new hires — Lankford intends to continue some of the intervention measures implemented using state or local funding.

"Even though the funding may decline or go away the next two to three years, what's working, we as a board need to look at," he said. "Everything we do is going to be data-driven."