Hardyston schools to address learning loss with summer academy

Hardyston. Chief school administrator Mike Ryder said the 2021-22 school budget reflects a 15% loss of state aid, but keeps up staffing levels and expands educational opportunities.

| 07 May 2021 | 01:30

Despite decreased state funding, Hardyston Township Schools will address the learning loss students have suffered because of the pandemic, said chief school administrator Mike Ryder.

The $14.5 million budget for 2021-22 that was reviewed and accepted at the April 27 school board budget meeting reflects a 15% decrease in state aid from last year. But, Ryder said, staffing levels have been maintained.

Hardyston is holding a three-week summer academy to help students who suffered learning loss while attending class virtually, Ryder said. It will be held in July at the middle school for grades one through seven.

Measures have been taken to determine which students experienced the greatest learning loss. Ryder said the loss in language arts and math was not as extensive as administrators feared it would be. Since full-day instruction since September had very low cohort numbers, students who received in-person instruction benefitted from a once-in-a-lifetime, very low teacher-ratio in the classroom. These students had lots individual attention.

Next year, intervention hours in math and language arts at the elementary and middle school will be introduced during regular school hours, Ryder said.

“We are also seeking to implement before and/or after-school opportunities for students to be tutored throughout the year,” said Ryder.

He said new reading programs will be provided to the MD (multiple-disabled) and LLD (language learning disability) programs at the elementary school. Special education students in the MD program have considerable individual needs, and a specialized reading program is warranted, he said. In addition, he said, a new preschool curriculum will be in place for next year.

Other plans

Other highlights of the district’s plan for next year include:

Math assessments — The middle school will give math assessments to recognize students who may qualify for advanced classes or progressive grade placements in the subject. Ryder said teachers do not want students to be limited to the math in their grade. “If they can advance, we should not hold them back,” he said.

Scheduling — The school is hoping to get back to normal scheduling, Ryder said. That means dedicating time to “Second Step” teaching which involves instituting a Social and Emotional Learning Program, or SEL. Second Step programs aim to change schools into encouraging learning environments where students can flourish.

Flex time — Hardyston also wants to see the return of flex time at the middle school. “Flex time gives students some independence and individual choices in the middle of the day to decide what they want to do,” Ryder said.

Improvements — The district will be making major improvements — replacing boilers, roofing, HVAC systems, drains, and the electrical system. The wireless network in the grammar and middle schools will be upgraded. To pay for these improvements, the school will draw on capital and maintenance reserves, federal grants, and fund balance.

A new fund for schools

A new Covid-19 relief fund, ESSER II (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Fund), will be available to all New Jersey public schools. May 14 is the application deadline. The funds come with restrictions, and Superintendents in Sussex County have been meeting about combing their funds for a greater result. School officials will invite the community to planning sessions that will outline goals for the next five years.

By the numbers:
Total budget for next school year: $14,470,360.00
State aid cut from next year’s budget: $267,071
Total state aid for next year: $1,522,279
Percentage of budget supported ty state aid: 10.5%