School Board (copy)

Superintendent Sharon Contreras speaks at the emergency Board of Education meeting where further actions were discuss in response to the COVID-19 pandemic in Guilford County Schools Central Office Board Room in Greensboro, N.C., on Friday, March 13, 2020.

GREENSBORO — Superintendent Sharon Contreras said Wednesday she is interested in extending learning next school year to help make up for learning losses due to COVID-19 closures.

She said she heard a bill had been introduced to the state education committee that could add additional days to the school year next year, and she is waiting to see what legislators might do with that. 

Board member Pat Tillman asked Contreras about the possibility of extending school this summer, but Contreras said she thought that idea faced opposition from the North Carolina tourism industry.

If the state doesn't make any special allowances, she said, it's possible the district could still look into extending learning at schools that have "Restart" status.

These so-called "Restart" schools can get flexibility in areas like school staffing and school calendar similar to what the state gives to charter schools. The option to apply for and receive Restart status from the state is available to schools with recent low-performance on state tests. 

Including two schools that were just approved for Restart this March, the Restart schools are: Bessemer, Cone, Falkener, Foust, Wiley, Fairview, Frazier, Vandalia, Washington, Bluford and Gillespie Park elementary schools and Ferndale, Hairston, Jackson, Northeast and Welborn middle schools.

Extended learning, she said, could be done in a way variety of ways, such as lengthening a school day or year, or even extending opportunities for specific students.

Contreras brought up the idea during her presentation of recommendations for next year's school budget to the district's school board in a virtual meeting Wednesday.

Contreras is proposing a total operating budget of about $759 million. That includes a request to commissioners for $7.5 million in additional operating funds. About $1.3 million of that is requested to cover an increase in local charter school enrollment given that Guilford County Schools is responsible for passing along county funding to the charter schools in the county.  

The request also covers anticipated state salary increases, retirement and health insurance rates, extending bus driver pay increases to a full year and about $170,000 in property and liability insurance. 

Separately, the superintendent wants to ask for about $20 million from the county for the capital outlay budget, to be use for deferred maintenance projects around the district, as well as a small portion for equipment, furniture and school band uniforms.   

She said she expects the district to receive about $21 million in federal COVID-19 emergency funding for 2020-21.

That's not enough, she said, for the district to make up for what students are losing in learning this year. The district also doesn't know what this year's state or county funding for Guilford County Schools will look like — a big question mark in the middle of the coronavirus upheaval. 

Still, she has five priorities for how she'd ideally like to use the money. 

One of those is extending learning time, "to help students recover lost knowledge and skills and spur greater academic growth."

Others include expanding internet access for families, making sure students get needed laptops and tablets, doing assessments of students to diagnose where they stand after the COVID closures, and individualized academic support, such as tutoring, for students who need it. 

She said she’d also like to see larger class sizes allowed for kindergarten-through-third-grade classrooms, because they face unknown challenges in the coming year, such as the possibility that some teachers and students may not want to come back to classrooms, with COVID potentially still a threat. 

Whatever the situation with COVID-19 next school year, Contreras said, it's obvious that the district will have to offer some blend of face-to-face and distance learning.

"The overwhelmingly devastating pandemic we face is also our opportunity to set the example in re-imagining over 350 years of public education," she said in a letter to the board accompanying her proposals.  "... Moments of crisis and disruption can lead to innovation and necessary positive change; let’s seize our opportunities."

Contact Jessie Pounds at 336-373-7002 and follow @JessiePounds on Twitter.​

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