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Buffalo Teacher Shortage Halts Learning Recovery Program

The New York school district’s after-school instruction faces a teacher shortage two weeks before its scheduled start date. The majority of the program has been funded through American Rescue Plan dollars, which will expire by Sept. 2024.

For the second straight year, Buffalo, N.Y., Schools may not be able to fully offer a key recovery strategy to overcome learning loss experienced by students during the two years disrupted by Covid-19.

Superintendent Tonja M. Williams said last week at a school board work session that the district's after-school instruction — called Extended Learning Time — faces a teacher shortage about two weeks before its Oct. 23 start. If the district cannot find more teachers to work after school — or collaborate with community partners to fill the positions — only limited seats will be available to students and the program might not be offered daily.

"We're looking at four days and then maybe having our community partners prepare work to send home on Fridays," Williams said. The superintendent said the shortage more severely affects elementary students who are developing basic skills. Extended Learning Time for high schoolers is geared toward credit recovery in specific subjects.

Last year, Extended Learning Time was hamstrung by a lack of bus drivers to transport students, a local symptom of a nationwide problem. Only those who could walk to their destinations or have their parents provide transportation could receive extra help, which Williams has admitted is an equity issue. Busing is available for students staying after school this year, the superintendent said.

This year, even with a new three-bell schedule that has increased the number of bus routes completed by roughly the same number of drivers, the 18 elementary schools that dismiss at 4:15 p.m. — 20 minutes later than last year — have had trouble attracting teachers for after school.

Both Williams and Buffalo Teachers Federation President Rich Nigro said late dismissals were a major sticking point. In a brief interview Friday, Nigro said staffing a two-hour program from 4:15 to 6:15 p.m. could interfere with a teacher's plans to pick up children from child care or complete other family obligations. He said many teachers are already spending a few hours working after the final bell to prepare for the next day.

That Buffalo would again be unable to present a robust academic recovery option outside of the school day bothered the Buffalo School Board president.

"It's not new that we don't have staff for this, but it's worse this year than ever," Sharon Belton-Cottman said. "We earmarked money for learning and may not be able to pull it off."

After-school instruction has been funded by American Rescue Plan and the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief money from the federal government. Buffalo spent about $12 million of Covid-19 relief funds toward after-school endeavors last year, according to budget information shared by the district. The vast majority of those funds will expire by September 2024.

Buffalo's Extended Learning Time is split into three categories: academic enrichment, in which students receive help on homework from tutors or focused reading and math instruction; health and wellness, which focuses on recreation, nutrition and stress management; and positive youth development, touching on conflict resolution and the arts.

Because of the district's goals and low proficiency rates after the pandemic-affected years, a particular emphasis has been placed on the academic portion for students who fell behind in 2020 and 2021.

Further complicating matters is a lack of staff from Buffalo's community partners, who collaborate with the district to provide after-school instruction. Williams did not specify which organizations were shorthanded, but BestSelf Behavioral Health, the Belle Center and Parker Academy are among district partners for 2023-24.

Buffalo Schools' job posting in mid-September for after-school teachers requires candidates to be employed by Buffalo Schools as a tenured, probationary or temporary teacher. If the shortage persists, board members floated alternative solutions such as using teaching aides, building staff or bus aides to meet the need.

(c)2023 The Buffalo News (Buffalo, N.Y.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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