BY STEFANIE JACKSON, Eastern Shore Post
The Accomack school board voted 6-3 Tuesday night to approve spending more than $1 million on Saturday school, a proposal that several school board members said prompted many parent phone calls over the previous weekend.
Before the public comment period, Vice Chair Ronnie Holden announced that a “misconception” had been spread on social media about “mandatory Saturday school.”
He said that the Saturday school, which a committee renamed Success Academy, is a voluntary “opportunity for students who have fallen behind” during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Funding the academy was part of the plan to spend $2.1 million Accomack schools had left from the third round of the American Rescue Plan’s Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief.
The school district was awarded more than $13 million in ESSER III funding in August 2021, with a deadline of September 2024 to spend the money.
The school board was expected to vote on the proposal Tuesday night to meet the Dec. 31 deadline Gov. Glenn Youngkin set for Virginia school districts to publish plans for spending their remaining ESSER funding.
Gov. Youngkin directed schools to spend at least 20% of the funds on addressing learning loss, such as providing additional instruction before and after school, on weekends, and during the summer.
His other suggestions included extending the school year, providing access to tutoring, and giving teachers and schools performance bonuses.
Assistant Superintendent Rhonda Hall said only students with the greatest learning losses will be invited to the Success Academy, which will be held two Saturdays per month starting in February, from 8 a.m. to noon each day.
Breakfast and lunch will be served, with instruction from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m.
The academy will end by Memorial Day and resume in October of the following school year.
Every class will have about 15 to 18 students.
At each of the five participating Accomack schools, the Success Academy will be staffed by one administrator earning $240 a day and six general education teachers and one special education teacher each earning $200 a day.
The decision was made to pay teachers $200 for four hours of work to entice qualified educators who would enhance the learning experience for students.
“We don’t want teachers just to come and do the traditional type of teaching — we want them to come and make teaching fun … to make the kids want to come,” Hall said.
Every participating school also will employ one teacher’s aide, one custodian, and two cafeteria workers, each earning $120 a day.
Two school nurses will be available, one in the north and one in the south end of Accomack County, each earning $200 a day.
The program also will employ 20 bus drivers, each of whom will earn $120 a day.
School division administrators seemed confident that teachers and bus drivers would be more willing and able to work on Saturdays than after school, when teachers are fatigued from working all day and there is additional demand for bus drivers for extracurricular activities.
Most of the questions and concerns parents and citizens had raised were addressed Tuesday night.
However, one issue couldn’t be resolved: the manner in which information on the Saturday school was shared with the public prior to the school board meeting.
Bobbi Jo Wert, of Melfa, unapologetically admitted to sharing part of the five-page spending proposal, which contained one line mentioning the Saturday school, on Facebook over the weekend.
“I have sat on multi-million-dollar boards. I have answered to boards myself. I would never have presented a five-page document to my board members, who I work for, that just says a specific bullet point and expect you to vote on it the same night.
“Give me more information,” she said.
Her husband, Jeremy Wert, said they had heard the Saturday school would be mandatory and had no way of knowing any different.
“How would anybody know? Nothing has ever been released for the public to read,” he pointed out.
Wert cautioned the school board against “haphazardly spending … taxpayer money” to meet a deadline.
He said, “It’s not your money. It’s our money.”