With federal aid, Kingston schools seek full graduation rate

Among the Kingston City School District’s plans for nearly $21.6 million in federal COVID aid is the ambitious goal of a 100 percent graduation rate at Kingston High School by the year 2024. Earlier this month, Superintendent Paul Padalino set the goal after revealing that the district had just surpassed a graduation rate of 81 percent for the 2020-21 school year. 

“We’ve already identified exactly where we are and…exactly who the students are and exactly how we need to focus on what the areas are where they’re struggling,” Padalino said. “This is a really lofty goal, but I think it’s doable.”

Padalino was speaking during the Board of Education’s annual reorganizational meeting, held on Wednesday, July 7. The significance of the year 2024 is that funding for the pair of federal pandemic aid packages must be spent by then. The KCSD will receive $6.4 million through the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations (CRRSA) Act enacted on December 20, 2020; and $15.1 million through the American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act enacted on March 11, 2021. 

Advertisement

The CRRSA funding is available for the district to use through September 2023, while the ARP funding can be spent through September 2024, with at least 20 percent of the $15.1 million required to be spent on “learning loss” during the pandemic. Learning loss could be addressed with after-school or extended day activities, summer learning or enrichment, or extended school year. Learning loss spending should consider underrepresented student subgroups, including but not limited to children from low-income families, children with disabilities, English learners, homeless children and foster children. The ARP funding will also require school districts to formulate a plan to return to in-school instruction for the 2021-22 school year. 

“The Kingston City School District plans to use these funds not only to bridge the gaps from COVID-19, but to improve student achievement, student health and well-being, and to address equity and make meaningful substantial systematic change,” Padalino said.

Padalino said the 81.16 percent graduation rate for the Class of 2021 is expected to rise after an anticipated 14 more students currently working toward fulfilling their graduation requirements are added to the total next month. Within the current tally, 161 of the 405 students who have graduated earned Advanced Regents designations, and 38 had received 30 or more college credits through SUNY Ulster. 

To achieve the 100 percent KHS graduation rate, the district is planning on focusing on the cohort model; increasing guidance support, including 2-1 for English language learners; expanding credit recovery opportunities, including satellite options with community partners; increased academic intervention services; expanded night school programming; and the hiring of a consultant to explore a later start time at the high school. 

Correcting learning loss

But the KCSD has more in store for the federal funding than the KHS graduation rate. On Tuesday, June 29, the district held a live-streamed town hall to discuss its plans, which school officials have said were crafted using community feedback and guided by transparency, a focus on students with a multi-year approach of targeted investment for those who need it the most. 

“If the Kingston City School District looks the same in four years we will not have done our jobs and we will have missed the greatest opportunity in public education in our lifetime,” Padalino said. “I’m excited about change. We always have said in public education to our legislators to give us the money and we will make change. Up until this point they haven’t given us the money. Now we have the money. Now it’s our opportunity and our responsibility to make change.”

Among the district’s commitments to addressing learning loss are a summer program for all students, including math, literacy and social-emotional wellness for students in grades K-4; reading and math skills and social-emotional programming with assistance from Peaceful Guardians and Family of Woodstock for students in grades 5-8; and all core areas, we well as health, physical education, keyboarding, language, team-building and social-emotional programming for students in grades 9-12. There will also be yearlong after-school programming, extended credit recovery, and transition programming. The district also plans reduced class sizes in grades K-3, with an elementary-wide average of fewer than 20 students per classroom. 

“We’ve been talking about social and emotional learning for seven or eight years,” Padalino said. “And we’ve implemented programs, but not having the funding to expand them to the extent we want to, adding the professionals that we need, like the social workers. Now we can do that.”

Also factored into the district’s plans is transportation for extended programming. 

“Transportation is a big part of this planning,” Padalino said. “Having the programs is one thing, but getting students to and from these programs is another.” 

Additional goals

In addition to the 100 percent graduation rate, other goals for June 2024 include all students reading and performing in math at grade level by the third grade. A fully-established restorative practices program, long a goal of the district, is also expected to be in place by June 2024. New playgrounds and play spaces are also in the works, including ADA specialized equipment for students with disabilities. 

By June 2022, the district plans to give all students access to meals that include fresh fruit and vegetables and locally sourced foods, as well as food education programming. 

Another key component of the district’s plans is a focus on diversity, equity, inclusion and access. A department covering those areas is planned by September of this year, with a target date of December 2021 for the development and implementation of a plan for faculty and staff to proportionately reflect the diversity of the student body to be instated by June 2024. 

Following the town hall, the district posted its plans on its official website. But Padalino stressed that they are still a work in progress. 

“This plan is not written in stone,” he said. “There will be extensive review, outreach and evaluation as we go through this process to identify areas that need to be changed or altered.”