Franklin County Schools Hope for Wellness Center

by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer

Franklin County Director of Schools Stanley Bean hopes to receive federal approval to use $4.6 million of $9.7 million in ESSR 3 funds to construct a Wellness Center at Franklin County High School. A June 2 school board workshop provided an overview of the Franklin County Schools’ plan for allocating federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSR) funds.

The ESSR 3 allocation provides almost twice as much funding as ESSR 1 and ESSR 2 combined. Kim Tucker, Elementary Supervisor of Curriculum and Instruction for 2021–22, said the first two distributions emphasized the goal of addressing learning loss occurring as a result of the pandemic. Twenty percent of ESSR 3 monies must be spent on ameliorating learning loss, but the ESSR 3 guidelines also allow for other pandemic-relief expenditures.

Bean said the Wellness Center will help alleviate overcrowding and accommodate social distancing. He described the proposed facility as a “mini Fowler Center” providing much needed space for athletic activities. Currently, special education students must share the gym with other groups, the wrestling team and cheerleaders have no space to practice, and the football team’s indoor space is far too small, Bean insisted. He anticipates the new facility will also offer wellness classes, a physical therapy trainer, and provide a more suitable game site for elementary school basketball games now held at Townsend School.

“The Wellness Center will show we were creative and smart in how we spent the money,” Bean stressed. “In three years we’ll have something to show for it.”

ESSR monies must be spent within three years, Tucker said. To address learning loss, every school will have an additional teacher and two tutors in the fall. Both programs have caveats. In three years, there may be jobs for the new-hire teachers, but not the same positions, Tucker speculated. Transportation issues plague the tutoring program. The buses do not finish their routes in time to transport students who stay for after-school tutoring. Morning tutoring and other solutions are under consideration.

Tucker emphasized the importance of also spending ESSR funds on non-staffing expenses to enhance the curriculum. All schools will have STREAM (science, technology, reading, engineering, art, and math) labs, all teachers will have desktop-computer workstations, and all schools will have OWL technology to facilitate Zoom meetings.

Plans do not call for virtual instruction to continue in the fall, Tucker said, but “it’s not totally off the table.” The schools applied for and did not receive a grant for the Pathways Academy program, an alternative high school option where students intern with companies. Tucker suggested a possible combination of virtual instruction and an internship program.

The new social-emotional learning program will be “face to face,” Tucker said. Troubled students will first engage in mindfulness activities to help them de-escalate and be ready to talk. The goal is teaching mindfulness skills to foster “self-managed behavior,” she observed.

To compensate school employees for enduring a particularly difficult school year, the school system used ESSR 2 monies to provide $500 bonuses to all teachers and staff, said Jenny Crabtree. Crabtree, who serves as Federal Programs Supervisor, guided Tucker and Leah Harrell, Secondary Supervisor of Curriculum and Instruction, in devising a plan for allocating the federal monies.

On the building improvements side, the emphasis is on “cleaner, healthier environments,” Crabtree pointed out. To enhance air filtration and ventilation, schools will receive upgrades to their HVAC systems.

Tucker said, in addition, all the schools (except the two new middle schools) received $10,000 from ESSR 2 for facilities repair and improvement to be spent at the principals’ discretion. All schools will receive $20,000 from ESSR 3.

Tucker anticipated drawing on ESSR 2 funds for the state mandated summer school program to provide for buses. However, state funding has come through for transportation, freeing up more ESSR money.