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Four Superintendents Share How They’ve Steered Their Districts Clear of ESSER’s Fiscal Cliff

Alena Zachery-Ross, superintendent of the Ypsilanti, Michigan Schools was one of the speakers at "Steering Clear of the Fiscal Cliff; Find the Path to Sustainable Revenue Streams Before ESSER Ends" Thursday, Feb. 15. Photo by Howard Lipin.

Education leaders at the AASA National Conference on Education in San Diego gathered for an important conversation on Thursday, Feb. 15, about “Steering Clear of the Fiscal Cliff: Find the Path to Sustainable Revenue Streams Before ESSER Ends.”

Doug Roberts, founder of the Institute for Education Innovation and facilitator of the hour-long session, began by asking each panelist to share their proudest achievement through use of the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund.

Superintendent Tammy Williams of the Greensburg Community School District in Indiana, pointed to the free preschool and preschool transportation for students that her district was able to offer through use of ESSER funds. Reflecting on the learning loss and time spent on computer screens or away from school, Williams said she sought to provide support for students to increase time in the classroom and restart learning at an earlier level post-COVID.

Morris Leis, superintendent of the Coffee County Schools in Douglas, Ga., detailed projects undertaken with ESSER funding. Across his district, schools were able to see infrastructure improvements, classroom audio and video enhancements, and increased security. All of these, he said, were intentionally one-time expenses.

Alena Zachery-Ross, superintendent of Ypsilanti Community Schools in Michigan, said she saw value in one-time investments as well, reflecting on how she had to actively seek sustainable improvements for her district knowing the temporary nature of these funds.

In anticipation of the fiscal cliff, Zachery-Ross said she was able to take actions that would sustain her district’s practices in the long-term, such as increased accountability, community partnerships and, most importantly, legislative change. She put it best by saying, “People support what they help create,” so by involving the community in deciding how to use the federal money, the programs might remain in place through local support.

Superintendent Cynthia Ritchie has harnessed the power of community in her district of Connecticut’s New London Public Schools as well, engaging with families, community partners and donors to sustain their mental health supports across schools. Ritchie also outlined a data-driven approach to sustain these forms of support in her district, noting she was able to prioritize support for sustaining mental wellness programs for students and staff that were deemed successful.

Each of the superintendents on the panel gave compelling and inspiring reflections on the actions they took to steer clear of the fiscal cliff.

(Bradley Beggs is a reporter for Conference Daily Online and a master’s student at the University of California at San Diego.)

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