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Budget may shift for math, reading specialists 

Isle of Wight County teachers — especially those who serve the youngest students — will probably need additional support professionals in the classroom to help get students get back on track toward academic benchmarks after months of pandemic-related disruptions and changes to their education experience.

Exactly what kind of professional support is needed, and how they should be integrated into planning for next year’s budget, was a point of discussion during a Feb. 16 school board budget work session.

The school division’s tentative 2021-2022 budget is $69.76 million, up 0.2% from last year.

Susan Goetz, the division’s executive director of leadership, whose responsibilities include coordinating curriculum and instruction, said recent data indicates the number of kindergarten through second-grade students who may need academic support or intervention in reading and math will likely be “too high” to address through a one-on-one approach. Trends are similar statewide, she added.
That’s why reading and math specialists should be added to the budget, said board member Vicky Hulick.

“As an elementary school parent right now, if my kid needs additional assistance, I want them getting that additional assistance,” Hulick said. “It’s hard when there’s 20-something kids in a classroom to get one-on-one or even three-on-one attention on a regular basis at the level they might need.”

The upcoming budget does include about $2.45 million in salaries for instructional assistants, who play a key role in student learning. But Hulick is advocating for the specialized support that elementary level reading and math specialists would provide.

“I think the volume of students that are having issues is going to be more than the teachers can handle without it being a remediation classroom,” Hulick said. “Not all students are going to have these issues — some students will excel at a different rate, so it’ll be important to have that support in place for students who need it,” even if the positions are budgeted for just one or two years through CARES funding.

“We don’t have any math specialists in the county,” Hulick said. “Math teachers are hard to get in general. And we’re not even putting anything out there to try and get them when everybody is going to be looking for these people. Reading, math especially at the elementary level, is going to be like the hot thing,” come hiring season ahead of the next academic year, said Hulick.

But creating positions before a need is confirmed and quantified isn’t the best approach, said board member Denise Tynes.

“We don’t know what we need until the students come back,” said Tynes, who added that classroom teachers and instructional assistants might be able to get students caught up academically without requiring additional support from specialists. “I can’t see us putting funding in this budget for positions that we don’t even know if we’re going to need,” Tynes said.

But Hulick disagreed, saying planning for that kind of support is her preferred approach.
“I feel like we need to be at least looking,” Hulick continued. “At least have those positions open. If we find the right people, great, if we don’t, we don’t, but I feel like we need to be looking because we know we need help in these areas.”

A public hearing on the school budget is set for 6 p.m. Feb. 25 at Smithfield High School. The school board plans to approve the budget on March 11, and it’s due to the Isle of Wight County Administrator on March 31.