SCPS to offer Saturday Academy from January-June 2024

Published 5:13 pm Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Southampton County Public Schools will offer a Saturday learning opportunity to provide additional educational support and opportunities for eligible students from January to June 2024. This opportunity will be called Saturday Academy and is designed to accelerate recovery from learning loss.

The initiative is in alignment with “ALL in VA,” a plan in which the Virginia Department of Education website notes the Commonwealth is making a significant investment in public education with $418 million dedicated to high dosage academic tutoring, accelerating the expansion of the Virginia Literacy Act and combating chronic absenteeism.

“(Saturday Academy) is an effort on our part to implement the ‘ALL in’ plan with fidelity,” SCPS Superintendent Dr. Gwendolyn P. Shannon said at the Nov. 13 Southampton County School Board meeting. “What we would like to do in addition to the efforts that we are making throughout the school day is we would also like to offer services to students on Saturdays.”

SCPS Coordinator of School Accountability and Improvement, Dr. MeChelle Blunt, provided a brief overview of Saturday Academy.

“We have selected our students to participate based on SOL data from last year, present performance, also recommendations from their parents and recommendations from their teachers,” she said.

A board member later asked how many students would be involved in the academy, and Board Chair Dr. Deborah Goodwyn, consulting the plan, said, “It looks like about 600 students would be eligible.”

Shannon applied a key caveat to that number, though.

“A lot of times you don’t get 100% of the students that should be in attendance, and we are going to just work with families to try to encourage students to come, not because of the … different rewards but because they really have a need,” she said.

Blunt said, “Our primary focus will be on those students who are in desperate need based on their performance. (The academy) is designed to recover learning loss.”

She noted that the Saturday Academy will have a 10-to-1 student-to-teacher ratio.

“This will allow our students to receive up-close and personal instruction, and we’d like to define our efforts as more traditional,” she said. 

She cited some of the different digital learning platforms that will be utilized and said, “The students will certainly be familiar with what they already use in the classroom, but it will allow us to be prescriptive in the activities that we assign our students.”

Blunt then highlighted some incentives.

“As an incentive, we will share with the students and the staff members that are involved in the Saturday Academy T-shirts that will identify all participants as Saturday Academy members,” she said. “We do encourage attendance, and at the end of the program, we will afford students a trip to a theme park.”

She said that SCPS will offer cultural enrichment activities throughout the program.

Next, she noted that Saturday Academy will grant students the opportunity to recover attendance.

“We know that the state of Virginia, in terms of standards of quality, requires a certain number of clock hours of instruction,” she said. “So for those students who have missed time from school, we will give them an opportunity to make up the missed content, and this will be based on the time that they are out of school.”

Describing how the proposed schedule for Saturday Academy would work, Blunt said staff would arrive at 7:30 a.m., and classes would begin promptly at 8 a.m. 

She said the day will include breakfast and lunch.

Moments later, Shannon emphasized that the times Blunt was proposing were tentative and that surveys would be sent out to teachers, students, parents, and whomever to try to get some feedback from them.

According to fliers posted on the SCPS Facebook page on Nov. 30 and Dec. 1, the hours of the Saturday Academy will run from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

During her presentation at the Nov. 13 board meeting, Blunt proposed that staff members would leave 30 minutes after the academy school day had concluded.

“This will allow staff members to collaborate, plan, debrief and prepare progress reports to communicate consistently with parents,” she said.

Shannon noted that SCPS would offer the Saturday Academy for 20 Saturdays.

“And those 20 Saturdays are the equivalent of about 20 additional school days,” she said.

On a flier recruiting teachers for the Saturday Academy, the 20 Saturdays are listed: Jan. 6, 13, 20 and 27, Feb. 3, 10, 17 and 24, March 2, 9, 16 and 23, April 13, 20 and 27, May 4, 11 and 18 and June 1 and 8.

One of the fliers indicates that Saturday Academy instructional staff must participate in paid professional development on Saturday, Dec. 9, and Saturday, Dec. 16, from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

“We are proposing to pay our teachers $50 an hour to come on Saturdays and work, and we are looking for the best of the best in Virginia when it comes to teachers, so we will reach out to other school divisions to try to recruit teachers,” Shannon said. “It may not just be teachers from Southampton, but it will be teachers from all around who will come in and work on Saturday.

“This program is being funded by the funds that were designated for the ‘ALL in’ Academy, and we received about a million dollars for our ‘ALL in’ plan,” she continued. “So that is why we are able to pay the $50 an hour to the teacher.

“We would love to be able to do this year-round with other programs, but of course, because of the budget, we’re not able to,” she said. “But any time we do have an opportunity to do so, we do, and because of the funding that we’ve received from the state for the ‘ALL in’ Academy or the ‘ALL in’ plan, we’re now able to do so.”

She highlighted more of the pay rates being offered for different positions on the Saturday Academy days from 8 a.m.-2 p.m.

“We are offering paraprofessionals $25 an hour; secretaries $25 an hour; food service employees $25 an hour; bus drivers $30 an hour; school nurses, RNs $40 an hour; LPNs $30 an hour; CNAs $20 an hour; school security officers $25 an hour; custodians $25 an hour,” she said. “So we are just looking forward to everyone being on board and working with us to provide a robust Saturday Academy for our students.”

One of the SCPS Facebook page fliers also lists $50 per hour for school counselors and $15 per hour for student tutors.

The application deadline for instructional and support staff is Friday, Dec. 8.

Existing SCPS staff interested in applying are directed to a Google Doc link that is listed on the school division’s Facebook page.

External applicants are directed to visit Southampton.k12.va.us to complete an online application.

Those with questions can contact Blunt or Debra Hicks at 757-653-2692, as well as via email at mblunt@southampton.k12.va.us and dhicks@southampton.k12.va.us.

“Now I will say that the criteria that the state Department (of Education) set is very high as far as who would qualify for the Saturday Academy,” Shannon said. “Normally, a 400 is considered passing, and so we usually just tutor students who scored below 400, but the state department has set Tier 1 at 450 and Tier 2 at 449 to 375, so the standards are really, really high. And what that means is that a child could have passed a state test the year before but still qualify to be a participant in our Saturday Academy.”

In response to questions from Board Member Orris Lane, Shannon said the Saturday Academy would be offered to kindergarten through 12th grade students, and the academy would meet at Southampton High School and Southampton Middle School.

“It’ll only be housed at the high school and the middle school so that we can provide just centralized oversight of the program,” Shannon said, later noting that age groups would be separated. “We’ll have enough people to monitor and watch and make sure that everyone is safe.”

Blunt said, “We will also incorporate a parent workshop in our Saturday Academy.”

Board Member Lynn Bradley asked about the distribution of paraprofessionals across the classes to be held.

“We have to see who applies and who decides that they want to work, and they will apply to work at the Saturday Academy, and then we’ll go from there,” Shannon said. “Of course, we will have paraprofessionals with some of our younger students — kindergarten, first, second, they’ll need some paraprofessionals. And then contingent upon the learning needs of some of our other students, they also may need paraprofessionals.

“But it’s going to be need-based, it’s going to be individualized, and it really just depends on the needs of the particular students where the paraprofessionals will serve,” she added.

Goodwyn noted that SCPS will recruit teachers in Southampton as well as teachers from surrounding areas.

Shannon also made a point to note that administrators are also able to teach at the Saturday Academy since all SCPS administrators have a teaching license or teaching certificate and started as teachers.

“The $50 an hour that we are paying the teachers, if an administrator wants to come and serve in the capacity of a teacher, they too will make the same amount that the teacher will make,” she said.

Shannon underscored that the Saturday Academy is not replacing other efforts to help students.

“Our principals have worked really, really hard on an early release tutoring schedule, and what we mean by that is they created an early release schedule — and I want to give credit to Ms. Susan Fowler for this idea; she started this last year — but instead of sending kids home, we send them to tutoring,” Shannon said. “So we do that at some schools one day a week, and hopefully, as the year progresses, we may do it a little bit more frequently.

“I guess the motive behind all of this is just what I call ‘straight teaching’ and kind of getting back to the basics,” she said, “because a lot of what we do day-to-day, nothing’s wrong with computers, it’s fine, but we still have some students who really, really could benefit from a little bit more face-to-face and one-on-one with a teacher, and that’s what we want to do on Saturdays and then to try to reduce that student-teacher ratio.”

Lane made the motion to approve the Saturday Academy plan, Board Member Greg Scott seconded it, and the 6-0 vote followed shortly thereafter. Board members Denise Bunn and Florence Reynolds were not present for the vote.