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Board members concerned about students’ academic, emotional well-being

Local School Board Member Advisory Council meeting

Kentucky School Advocate
June 2020

By Brenna R. Kelly
Staff writer

When students return to school this fall, they will need additional academic and emotional supports, local board members told Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) officials during the May 6 Local School Board Member Advisory Council meeting. 

“As local school board members, you all have to make tough decisions and will continue to have to make tough decisions over the coming months. We really want to hear from you what challenges your districts are facing,” KDE Associate Commissioner Kelly Foster told the members who met virtually for the first time. 

Nelson County Schools chairwoman Diane Berry said she worried that students would be behind academically because of prolonged remote instruction.

“I’m really concerned about it because NTI doesn’t take the place of being in school,” Berry said. “I know Nelson County is doing some amazing things, but that’s my concern.”

Foster said KDE’s re-entry plan lists the thing districts will need to consider before students return to school, which includes assessing students to determine whether remediation is needed. 

The seven board members attending the meeting also noted that in addition to academic concerns, students’ mental health will also need to be addressed. A lot could have happened in students’ lives since they were last in a classroom, including the death of a parent or grandparent, or a parent could have lost a job, noted Woodford County board member Ambrose Wilson. 

Damien Sweeney, KDE’s program coordinator for comprehensive school counseling, explained that schools will have to address students’ emotional needs when classes resume. 

“Our content classes can’t just be about content. Those classes have to start with being psychologically supportive. They should infuse social and emotional learning,” he said. “We know that those kids aren’t going to come ready to learn. Those kids are going to come wanting to feel safe, wanting that sense of community.”

KDE Associate Commissioner Robin Kinney also updated members on the CARES Act funding districts are receiving, including $193 million from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund and $30 million from the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund. 

Wilson noted that board members need to be included on discussions with KDE about the money and how it can be spent.

“I think it’s very, very important for board members to have somewhat of a working knowledge of everything so that when we make our decisions, we have all of that information,” he said. 

Kinney agreed, noting that how to spend the CARES Act money will be a local decision, adding that board members should make sure to think about short term and long term needs when deciding how to spend the money. 

“Not every district is going to have the same needs,” she said. It’s possible more federal funding will be coming and it’s possible that this is the only relief districts will get, she said. 

Berry agreed that board members need to be included so that they know how much is coming and what it can be spent on.

“We don’t know it all, that’s why you pick a superintendent,” she said. “But I want to know it all.” 

Though the next advisory council meeting is not scheduled until September, Interim Commissioner Kevin Brown said he expected to call another meeting to hear from local board members as districts and the department plan for the next school year.

“We’re in such an unusual time,” he said. “The public health information changes by the day, so we value your feedback as we move through this pandemic.” 

Photo: Interim Commissioner Kevin Brown meets with Local School Board Member Advisory Council members Joanna Freels, Shelby County (upper right), Larry Dodson, Oldham County (lower left), and Carl Wicklund, Kenton County (lower right).

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