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Making up for lost learning

Williston schools to bring on extra staff after pandemic disruption

BY JASON STARR

Observer staff

School leaders are projecting significant gaps in learning after what could be more than a year of partially remote school schedules induced by the pandemic.

The most impacted grade levels will be kindergarten through third grade, Champlain Valley School Board member Erin Brady of Williston said at a recent school board meeting. As the district puts together a budget this winter for the upcoming school year, it is considering how to assess the negative effects of remote learning and allocate resources to make up for what’s being lost.

“There are really critical things like math and literacy that kids are losing a lot of time on, and it’s going to land on our schools next year and in years to come,” Brady said at the board’s Dec. 1 meeting. “I feel uncomfortable trying to sell a budget to the public that I can’t say is going to work to address some of the gaps and the challenges students face.”

Two weeks later, at the board’s Dec. 15 meeting, school administrators presented a reworked budget proposal that included a new “literary interventionist” position for Williston schools. The position would “ensure we have resources to meet expected COVID-related gaps,” the proposal states.

Champlain Valley Union High School will also need resources to mitigate what is being lost during remote learning, Principal Adam Bunting said. Teachers have adapted to online teaching by paring down curricula, he said. 

“I share Erin’s concern,” Bunting said. “There are things that will be lost, but we know what they are.”

The district may beef up its summer school offerings as a way to catch students up, Chief Operations Officer Jeanne Jensen said.

“That seems like a really good way to get kids some additional (instruction) so they start better in September,” she said. 

The new position in Williston — along with a new teacher position in Charlotte and a new district-wide Director of Equity and Inclusion position — contributes to a proposed budget increase of 3.5 percent. The board is planning two budget meetings in January before finalizing the proposal for voter approval at Town Meeting Day in March. 

Jensen predicts the spending increase will result in a 6.1 percent increase in property taxes.

Also last Tuesday, the board approved a $25,000 contract for an executive recruiting company out of Omaha, Neb. — McPherson and Jacobson — to assist the board in hiring a successor for Superintendent Elaine Pinckney, who has announced plans to retire at the end of June. 

The company recently helped the Burlington School District with its superintendent search, board member Russ Caffry said.

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