When I read the results of NASSP’s recent survey and heard what principals around the country had to say, I was surprised so many of them reported that their districts haven’t consulted them enough about how state and federal COVID-19 relief funds are spent.

According to the survey, only 27 percent “strongly agree” that their district appropriately consulted them about how to use COVID-relief financial aid for their school. And only 29 percent “strongly agree” that they have adequate resources (including teaching materials and other supplies) to support students in their building.

Fortunately, my experience has been different. Our school district and the community have been very supportive of what we need in our schools; they listen to what the teachers and I recommend, and the budget process reflects our input. We’ve always operated this way, and to me it’s the correct approach. School leaders and teachers are the ones who see students every single day. My goal, including with the budget process, is to meet the needs of students and staff.

When we received our first round of federal COVID funding, I reviewed with my administrative team our student and staff needs to determine how to use the funds. It was early in the pandemic, so we purchased tents for outdoor classrooms as well as cameras and other technology to make remote learning easier, and we provided more academic support after school for students.

With the second round of funding, we focused more on staffing and students’ social and emotional needs. We increased counseling, directed more support for academically at-risk students, and implemented more supportive ways to handle discipline. We also invested in improving our HVAC system to increase ventilation, and we installed touch-free entrance systems.

One concern is what happens when the extra funding goes away. We hired two new staff members with the federal funds—and I want to keep them both—so we’ve worked with the district to make sure these positions will be funded in next year’s budget. I’m sure there are other districts where once the federal COVID funding runs out, they won’t be able to sustain those positions. But again, I’ve been fortunate with my budget to provide the extra services and show the administration and school board the need for them to continue.

One thing we’ve realized is that the pandemic is not going away any time soon, and the effects will be with us for a long time. We can’t just wait it out and think that things will be normal a year from now. I’ve told my staff what we need to keep moving forward. Yes, we need to remain focused on improving instruction. But at the same time, the needs of our students have changed. And the role of teaching has changed. It’s not just delivering instruction. We’re dealing with the social and emotional well-being of our students, and a lot of teachers haven’t been trained for that. As a result, we’ve used some of the pandemic assistance to hire a consultant to help staff recognize and support the social and emotional needs of students. The consultant also works with me on how I can assist my faculty at the same time.

Nobody has been through anything like this pandemic before. The brain isn’t wired to deal with the everyday uncertainty so we’re in a constant state of increased stress. One of my priorities is relieving that stress in the building for staff and students. Doing so, allows our teachers and my administrative team to focus on two overarching questions: How do we make our school as inviting as we can for the six to eight hours a day that we have our students? And how can we make the world be as normal as possible for students and at least give them some stability in today’s world?

About the Author

Bill McGowan is the principal of Winnacunnet High School in Hampton, NH. Follow him on Twitter (@Winnacunnet).

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