District also considering after-school transportation program
By Laura Hayes, Senior Community Reporter
SHREWSBURY – The Shrewsbury Public Schools plan to hire a total of six full-time equivalent (FTE) positions to help address mental health and academic needs, Superintendent Joseph Sawyer said in a Sept. 22 School Committee meeting.
The district plans to hire these positions using a third round of funding from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund through the American Rescue Plan Act.
Shrewsbury is slated to receive about $1.23 million, Sawyer said.
District to hire counselors, paraprofessionals, pilot after-school transportation
According to Sawyer, the district plans to hire adjustment counselors for the elementary level and for Shrewsbury High School (SHS). The district is also looking to hire four FTE for paraprofessionals to tutor math and reading at the middle school level.
Additionally, Shrewsbury plans to set aside $125,000 to pilot an after-school transportation program similar to a late bus that ran from the high school and the middle school in the pace.
This came after respondents to a district survey said that after-school transportation can be a challenge.
‘[It] is an important first step’
Following Sawyer’s presentation, School Committee member Dale Magee noted that issues with stress, anxiety and depression are bubbling as front-burner issues.
“I think that mitigating this with counseling and the like is an important first step,” Magee said.
“I also think that we need to pause a little bit and see how we can not only put out the fire but maybe try to look at what could be starting it and do what we can to try to address what system issues we have,” he continued.
“Over the years, we’ve touched on a few things that may be contributing such as start time, dialing down homework and standardized testing,” Magee said. “I think within our school system, there’s an opportunity for us to try to see if there are things that we are doing that could be contributing to the emotional issues out there.”
Funding follows previous spending on PPE, COVID-19 response
Shrewsbury has used previous rounds of ESSER funding on PPE, COVID-19 surveillance testing and on additional furniture to properly distance when the schools reopened in the spring.
“This is the largest amount of money directly coming to school districts out of the American Rescue Plan,” Sawyer said.
Shrewsbury is required to set aside at least 20 percent of its funding to address lost instructional time, though Sawyer said the district may set aside more.
School Committee members praise plans
Sawyer said the paraprofessional positions may be split into part-time positions.
“We have a very strong program using tutors at the elementary level, and we would look to adapt that program for a more middle school need,” Sawyer said.
With the new adjustment counselor positions, meanwhile, there will be three adjustment counselors at SHS in particular, though one is tied specifically to the BRYT program.
The adjustment counselors will help deliver the district’s proactive social-emotional learning, Sawyer said.
“We know we’re trying to work with a lot of students at the elementary level, some of whom are struggling because they’re young and they’ve actually never really been to school before,” Sawyer said.
Hearing this presentation, School Committee members praised the district’s community outreach, particularly with key stakeholder groups.
“I do like that social and emotional health and mental health are consistent throughout this plan,” said committee member Jason Palitsch. “That was a consistent theme of a lot of the feedback that we received, and it’s certainly reflected here.”