Targeted services bring some students back to Fayette campuses

FAYETTE COUNTY, Ky. (WTVQ) – Beginning Monday, more than 1,700 Fayette County Public Schools elementary, middle and high school students entered their schools for the first time since March, as the state’s second-largest school district implements plans to provide targeted services to small groups of learners.

“We are thrilled to be serving students in person again,” said Fayette County Public Schools Superintendent Manny Caulk. “Our schools have excellent safety protocols in place and we are looking forward to providing additional support for some of our most vulnerable students.”

Each school worked with teachers and families to determine which students to invite to campus for additional instruction, based on the needs of the individual populations they serve.

At the Rise STEM Academy for Girls, a brand new program serving girls in kindergarten through second grade this year, today is the first time students will be able to enter the building.

“We certainly envisioned our first year opening Rise with all of our scholars, and we hope we’ll be able to bring them all in safely soon,” said Principal Jennifer Jacobs. “However, starting our on-campus instruction with targeted services allows us to ensure that when we can have all our scholars at once, they will start on the right foot together.”

Some locations welcomed kindergarten students who have never been inside their schools. Others will serve students who are struggling with online learning or face language barriers.

“This is a great opportunity for us to have small group and individual instruction with students who need it most,” said Coventry Oak Elementary School Principal Shamiah Ford, explaining that the school analyzed assessment results to determine who to bring in. “The data shows they need this very personal instruction. While we would love to have all students in the building, we need to be sure we are not leaving these targeted groups behind.”

At some schools, the time will be spent on experience-based learning like medical lab skills or animal sciences.

“Targeted services will look different in each building,” Caulk said. “But the health and safety procedures across the school district will be consistent, including masks, social distancing, temperature checks, health screenings, hand washing and enhanced cleaning protocols.”

The last time students and staff were together in buildings was March 13, the day after Governor Andy Beshear ordered schools across the Commonwealth to close as part of efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Since then, FCPS has completely reinvented the way services are delivered to students and families, with virtual learning in Google and Canvas, mental health services via Zoom, free meal service at 50 school and community pick-up locations, and weekly deliveries of household essentials to families in poverty.

Fayette County Public Schools has been working toward a return to campus ever since. Caulk explained that when it became apparent the district would be unable to return to campus last spring, we assembled a task force of more than 120 students, families, teachers, principals and district leaders to begin developing plans for the 2020-2021 school year.

“This team has worked tirelessly since, staying abreast of constantly evolving state guidance, researching best practices from within Commonwealth and across the country, and pushing each other to think critically and creatively,” said Senior Director of School Leadership Schuronda Morton, who co-chaired the group. “Even while grappling with difficult issues, our committees have kept the good of our students and employees at the heart of every decision. It was a challenge, but we appreciated the gifts and talents everyone brought to the table and our organization has grown as a result.”

The work has been challenging and complex as they have discussed and evaluated several possible models for reopening schools, considering implications for academic instruction, supplies and materials, student support, family engagement, extra-curricular and co-curricular activities, facilities, transportation, food service, cleaning, health and screening protocols, human resources, and communications.

“The ‘3R’ plan we released in July included detailed health and safety protocols, instructional models, metrics for determining whether to implement virtual, hybrid or in-person learning, and dates when we would reevaluate current health conditions throughout the school year,” Caulk said. “Every step we’ve taken since has been in accordance with our initial plan, which is constantly evolving in response to the fluid nature of the virus and changing guidance from federal, state and local health professionals.”

In late June and early July, the district surveyed students, staff and families. Infection rates plateaued and many hoped to safely return to some form of in-person learning in the fall. However, COVID-19 infections spiked in late July and a decision was made instead to start the year with remote learning. The district shifted focus and concentrated on ensuring that the Non-Traditional Instruction (NTI: 2DL) available to students this fall was engaging and challenging.

As the county approached the week of Sept. 28 – the first FCPS-established window to reconsider health conditions – Gov. Beshear introduced new state guidance for schools. The number of COVID-19 cases again increased in Fayette County, which placed the school district in the state’s “red zone.” Under those conditions, school districts are advised to offer targeted services.

State guidelines for targeted services allow schools to bring in no more than 15% of their building capacity. Classroom occupancy is capped at 15 or fewer people and sessions should last only two hours. Schools are allowed to offer additional help, but cannot provide primary instruction during these windows.

“This will give us an opportunity to see logistically how learning can occur under these restrictions,” said Fayette County Public Schools Middle School Chief Tracy Bruno, “while also providing supplemental services for identified students who would benefit the most from coming in before the possible start of hybrid instruction.”

A few Fayette County Public Schools had already been serving small groups of students, which has been allowed under guidance from the Kentucky Department of Education released Sept. 2.

Paul Laurence Dunbar High School began bringing in groups of about 20 students at a time three weeks ago, said Principal Betsy Rains.

“We actually got started because students reached out asking for help and our teachers wanted to bring them in for assistance,” she said, explaining that the school started first with students who are learning English. “We’re bringing in a different 20 students each time so we can reach them all.”

Rains said the grades of students getting the in-person help are already improving.

“It’s going great. They’re getting direct feedback, and they have somebody right there to answer the questions and to encourage them,” she explained. “The encouragement alone is helping. The students are excited and to be here. They’re smiling and the adults are happy too. It’s nice to see kids in the building again.”

Roughly 40 schools will offer targeted services this week. Bus transportation will be available to elementary school students this week. Bus service will begin at the middle and high school level the week of Oct. 26.

“We are increasing the number of students receiving targeted services this week, and those numbers will continue to grow next week,” Caulk said. “Every school I visit is excited about having students back on campus. We went into education because we love helping children grow and learn. The energy that comes from working directly with students – even while we’re socially distant – is palpable.”

Categories: Featured, Local News, News

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *