PFT Building Rep Sharahn Santana Testifies at Council Meeting on School District Recovery Plan

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Sharahn Santana

Testimony for City Council Committee on Children and Youth

American Rescue Plan

March 30, 2021

Good evening everyone and thank you councilmember Gym for hosting this city-wide forum and helping to build a vision for a school recovery plan that we all can support and believe in. 

My name is Sharahn Santana and I am a teacher at Parkway Northwest High School for Peace and Social Justice, PFT building representative, and a member of  PFT LOCAL 3.

Our city is about to receive an unprecedented amount of money to meet an unprecedented need, and we must act collectively and intelligently to ensure we use this stimulus money in a way that will have the greatest lasting impact on our children’s future.

In order to create resolutions on how the money should be spent, we must first address the problem. There is no doubt that the pandemic has exposed and exacerbated the problem of educational inequity. This inequity is what caused many schools to remain closed, while many schools in our surrounding suburbs were able to fully or partially reopen.

But inequity is nothing new. It was around long before the pandemic.  When thinking about how to bridge the gap with stimulus money we must not ignore the obvious and glaring problems that were already there, but do our best to address old and new issues with this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to help end education inequity. 

In addition to baseline funding for schools that is not contingent upon student enrollment, supporting fully released lead literacy and math teachers in every school, and retention of all current staff members, I am here to advocate for solutions that address immediate needs in the following areas: 

1.Capital spending to fund our school building facilities

2. Stop-gap interventions

3. Proactively supporting students’ mental health and wellness.

Repairing our building facilities is a massive old problem that needs a massive amount of new money. An immediate investment of at least $200 million is needed to remediate the most pressing environmental concerns within more than 225 buildings. Stimulus money should be used to fix our school buildings now, rather than taking out loans to incur debt later. There must be a plan to create a building repair cycle to bring them up to par to resemble a healthy 21st -century learning environment that our children deserve.   Better facilities could make for a healthier learning environment and an overall healthier financial outlook. 

Next, I will address the need for stop-gap learning. While all of the research is not conclusive concerning the magnitude of learning lost over the past year, we know it’s a problem we must be prepared to tackle right away.

Hiring temporary additional school-based staff to act as teaching assistants and climate support is a practical solution to allow teachers to work with students in small groups and more effectively use formative assessment data to drive instruction.

To further facilitate remediation via small group learning and smaller class sizes,  in the event that more space is needed, we should invest in mobile modules to offer more in-person classes and small group learning to create an environment that enables social distancing. Mobile modules can also be used as onsite learning spaces during much-needed building repairs. 

Additionally, we need after-school programing and tutoring facilitated by highly qualified teachers.

Finally, I will discuss the need for mental health and wellness. Many children are internalizing the uncertainty and hopelessness they feel during this time, which may result in isolating behaviors, anxiety, acting out, or depression. A mental health and wellness liaison is needed in every school to help students cope with returning to the classroom after more than a year of virtual learning. Providing a staff position,  in addition to school counselors, to help students and school communities adjust to their new normal may serve as a proactive and preventive measure for unforeseen student issues and incidents that can and will arise. 

In closing, I am asking that we use the stimulus money to 1) Repair our school building facilities,  2) Hire temporary additional school-based staff to act as classroom assistants and climate support,  3) Support after-school programming facilitated by teachers 4) Invest in mobile modules to provide more learning spaces for remediation, covid-mitigation, and building repairs, 5) Mental health and wellness liaison in every school. 

Thank you so much for this opportunity to share our thoughts.