Anniston schools hope for large summer school class to offset COVID learning loss

Tim Lockette, The Anniston Star, Ala.
·4 min read

Apr. 27—Anniston school leaders are hoping for a larger-than-usual summer school class this year as teachers try to make up for time lost to the pandemic.

"Our kids missed information," said Anniston City Schools superintendent Ray Hill. "I don't care if they're a top student or are struggling in some areas. I'm hoping that parents will take advantage of the summer school that we're doing."

Hill met with members of the Anniston school board Tuesday in a work session in the board's offices at Anniston Middle School. Among the topics discussed was the upcoming summer school session and what school officials hope will be an increased demand for summer classes.

School board members have for months discussed the likely losses in learning incurred during the chaos of the pandemic year. Anniston has been among the most cautious of school systems where the pandemic is concerned, conducting online classes longer than most in hopes of preventing the spread of the virus. Polls of parents last summer indicated that most favored online learning while the virus is still a factor.

Anniston isn't the only system where school officials expect losses due to COVID. State school officials have said it may take years to recover. And there's worry that students may be limping across the finish line of the 2020-21 school year without all they need to know.

"You can get a D all through high school and graduate and expect to go to college — but you're not going to get there," said Sabrina Winfrey, director of federal programs for Anniston schools.

Winfrey said applications for summer school are opening this week. Hill said principals are now contacting parents of kids who need summer school — not just those who need summer classes to move on to the next grade, but those who need remediation more generally.

Hill said he would require summer classes if he could, but he doesn't have that power. Winfrey said the school system is working on coming up with incentives that would get parents to register their kids.

The school system is offering teachers $50 per hour to work the summer school session, generous compared to average teacher pay. Winfrey said the $50-per-hour offer is funded by federal grants.

More COVID relief money coming

School board members on Tuesday also got an overview of the federal and state assistance — both spent and unspent — that has come Anniston's way in the wake of the pandemic. Much of the grant money spent so far has gone to computers to help with online learning, additional tutoring and sanitation of schools.

Finance director Johanna Martin told the board there is still $5.3 million potentially on the way from the most recent round of federal COVID aid. Some of that money is set aside for specific tasks such as assessment and tutoring, but some could be used on the school system's facilities.

Aging buildings and a declining number of students have plagued the school system for years now. The school board earlier this year voted to close Tenth Street Elementary, part of an attempt to consolidate schools and save money.

Money could go to sports facilities

School board members on Tuesday made it clear that they're not worried solely about the condition of classrooms. Anniston has sent both boys and girls basketball teams to championships in recent years, while other Anniston sports teams have made the playoffs. School officials say they're aware that Anniston's sports facilities don't meet the same standard.

"For example, our baseball field, we don't have lights," Hill said. He said the lack of lights means that if Saturday games aren't possible, the school system has to set up early-evening games on weekdays, which can cut into class time.

School board members cited other failings in the system's sports facilities. The track team has a relatively new track, but it's a miniature track on which it takes eight laps to complete a mile. The girls locker rooms at the high school are in bad shape, board members say. One board member said those locker rooms have become "notorious" among visiting teams.

"They do a great job with the things we give them," board member Becky Brown said of the city's teams.

Money is tight for the school system in part because of financial management problems under previous administrations. The school system is still expecting a federal penalty because of payroll information that wasn't properly reported to the Social Security Administration in 2018, for instance. Auditors are still working to complete an overdue audit from 2019.

Plans to boost energy efficiency

The board on Tuesday again discussed plans to hire an energy efficiency consultant to help the school system save money by installing new, more efficient lights, air conditioning and other appliances to cut energy costs.

Hill said four companies applied for the consulting work, and staff are still working to narrow the field.

Capitol & statewide reporter Tim Lockette: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.