Albemarle County Public Schools will try to focus more resources next year on the division’s neediest students, school officials said.
The division has grown overall over the last several years, but its most dramatic growth has been in immigrant and refugee students, non-English-proficient students and those who qualify for the free and reduced-price lunch program, said Assistant Superintendent Matt Haas.
In the county’s urban ring — the densely populated areas surrounding Charlottesville and U.S. 29 North — elementary schools far outstrip the county average population of students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, county figures show.
At Greer Elementary, 76 percent of students qualify for the lunch program, while Agnor-Hurt Elementary, Woodbrook Elementary and Ivy Creek School are all above 50 percent.
Outside of the urban ring, 73 percent of Yancey Elementary students receive free or reduced-price lunch. The division-wide average is 29 percent.
To make sure schools across the county are able to provide their students opportunities for enrichment and extra instruction outside the classroom, Haas said, the division this year asked schools staff for new information.
Instead of surveying teachers and principals for the needs of their particular school justified in the context of the division’s master plan, they asked staff to identify specific achievement gaps.
“One of the things we are doing for our budget, and it really is a county-wide initiative, is to put together a strategic budget initiative to address what we are calling ‘equity of access,’” he said. “We asked department heads and principals to identify specific gaps in data, or challenges, that they want to put resources behind to try and change.”
The difference in household incomes from one county school to another means the division cannot develop a universally applicable program to serve every school, said School Board member Steve Koleszar.
Funding afterschool programs at the neediest schools could help the division reach those students, he said.
“We have a huge range of financial needs, and kids with extra needs in the county,” Koleszar said. “A school like Meriwether Lewis Elementary, or somewhere with low poverty, something like this might not be appropriate. But we have schools with 50 or 60 percent, and a place like Greer, with closer to 80 percent, that is something to look at.”
Division staffers are about to finish a study of the effectiveness of the Extended Day Enrichment Program, the county’s main afterschool program. The study is expected to be completed by the first of the year.
“I am hoping it will be done in time, to come up with a pilot program to provide afterschool enrichment to students who cannot afford it, that it can be part of the budget,” Haas said.
Covering the needs of poor students and those with limited command of English, gaps in their education and emotional issues is becoming a taller task for the schools.
Between the 2010-11 and 2015-16 school years, the county’s population of English learners grew 12 percent, a facilities planning report shows.
Growth of the neediest demographics carries a cost. Between 2010-11 and 2015-2016, the expense of special programs, including English for Speakers of Other Languages, special education and differentiated staffing grew by $8.28 million, records show.
The differentiated staffing program sends additional staff to the county’s neediest schools to provide regular classroom teachers with more support. In the coming budget cycle, Haas said, division staff will look to increase the program’s impact.
As it stands, decisions are made at individual schools on how best to apply extra staffing, but division staffers are studying the program to determine if a more prescriptive approach would be better.
“I think you have to find a balance there between site-based management,” Haas said, “but at the same time, [evaluate] if we should be a little more strategic about the resources we provide.”
County schools staff will present the budget initiatives and expected costs to the School Board on Thursday.