District to focus on COVID recovery and planning for long-term improvements during 2021-22 school year

Press release from Alachua County Public Schools

With thousands of students returning to in-person schooling and about $90 million in federal funding coming in over the next few months, Alachua County Public Schools will spend the next school year focused on helping students recover from the COVID pandemic while laying the foundation for long-term improvements within the district.

During a workshop with the School Board earlier today, Superintendent Dr. Carlee Simon shared her vision for the 2020-21 school year and beyond. One of the top priorities is determining the best uses for ESSER (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief) funding allocated by the U.S. Congress. Florida districts are required to submit a detailed plan for spending those funds and provide updates on how it’s being used. ESSER funding must be spent before September of 2023.

Initial plans include supporting students who have lost ground academically, expanding mental health services, and making health and safety upgrades to school facilities. Over the long term, the goal is to invest in meaningful and sustainable improvements across the district that will continue to have a positive impact even after the funding ends. 

“ESSER is essentially seed money,” said Dr. Simon. “It gives us the opportunity to improve educational experiences and outcomes for all students,” 

The Superintendent also announced that a new strategic plan will be developed over the next year to replace the district’s existing plan, which is nearly ten years old. 

“As we recover from the pandemic, a new strategic plan will be our blueprint for making more comprehensive improvements to the district,” said Dr. Simon. 

While ESSER implementation and strategic planning are underway, the ‘reimagining’ of schools will also continue over the next year. That process will begin with a thorough review of the programs and services offered at schools. The redrawing of school attendance zones will begin after that review and the new strategic plan are completed.

The district is already pursuing the development of ‘whole school’ magnets, which draw students to a school from other attendance zones but are implemented school-wide. A STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) program will be piloted during the upcoming school year at Metcalfe Elementary, and planning is underway for an elementary dual-language immersion program. Other district- and school-wide changes will also be considered over the next year. 

Dr. Simon says community engagement will be a crucial element of the strategic planning process. 

“We need to hear from families, staff, and other citizens about what they expect from our schools,” said Dr. Simon. “Ultimately we should be providing a high-quality education for all students, no matter where they live.”

Video of the Superintendent’s presentation is available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZQqpbX7y-c8.