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Midvale Journal

Midvalley Elementary transitions to Title I, to receive additional support for students

Nov 01, 2021 02:46PM ● By Julie Slama

Midvalley is transitioning to be the fifth Title I elementary school in Canyons School District. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

Three of Midvale’s elementary schools are Title I schools and by this time next year, Midvalley Elementary, the last remaining elementary, is transitioning to be a Title I school and will be able to access federal funds to provide students with additional support.

Midvalley, 217 E. 7800 South, was declared a poverty school by the federal government earlier this calendar year and is receiving targeted assistance for one year, said Wendy Dau, Canyons School District’s director of federal and state programs.

“Once a school gets declared by basically federal nutrition services that 100% of its students qualify for free and reduced lunch, you start the process of moving it to Title I,” she said, adding that more than 60% of the school’s population has been identified as low income for the past three years.

Title I, a pillar of the federal K-12 law known as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act that was passed during the civil rights movement, is determined by the number of students who qualify for free or reduced lunch and schools need 40% to qualify for the basic grant available to all students, regardless of need. It operates a $16.5 billion program aimed at addressing education inequity so that all children have the same learning opportunities and meet state content and performance standards in reading, language arts and math.

As a targeted school, the Midvalley community can see some of those supports going into place this year with addition of an assistant principal, a qualified support professional that oversees students experiencing homelessness and ensuring the school has a licensed counselor or social worker, Dau said. 

“That’s part of the Title I piece is having the assistant principal, so they (the students) are starting to see pieces of the benefits of being Title I now,” said Principal Margaret Swanicke, who began her tenure at Midvalley in July. “When they announced two principals coming here, it’s a big shift as they’ve always had one principal.” 

More supports for students and their families after will go into place once feedback from a community survey is analyzed, a detailed plan and budget is put in place and an application is submitted to the state board of education.

While Title I funds will provide Midvalley with additional resources, Canyons School District won’t receive additional funds, but rather redistribute those that already are allocated.

“They just allocate the amount based on the numbers that they get from the state and then you get an amount and that’s X dollars per student,” Dau said. “It doesn’t give us more money; it just means we have more sites that we’re distributing the same amount to.” 

Canyons currently has four elementary schools—Midvale, East Midvale, Copperview and Sandy—on Title I status, each receiving between about $550,000 and $750,000 in federal Title I funds. As a targeted school of assistance this year, Midvalley is receiving close to $300,000. Next year Dau said those numbers will adjust to best support students in all Title I schools.

Board of Education member Mont Millerberg said with Title I funding, the district is looked at as a whole, based on each student below the poverty line, no matter where they live; then, funds are distributed where they can have the greatest impact on the largest number of students at the most highly impacted schools.

“It isn’t about boundaries because we have children under socio-economic levels at every school,” he said. “It’s about helping children who have the greatest need and make things more equitable amongst schools. Title I money gives extra money to use to elevate those kids’ socio-economic deficiencies; it provides a strong connection of those underprivileged who need help.”

Currently, Midvalley is in the hiring process of a community schools facilitator who can bring together different parts of the community to provide resources such as food pantries, clothing, or dental services.

“We’re slowly bringing more pieces this year,” Swanicke said.

The outcome of the needs assessment may point to the need for a family learning center at the school that, for example, can offer classes in English, budgeting and computers. Title I funds could pay a Playworks coach, for all-day kindergarten or to add certified instructional aides to allow more individual or small group instruction. 

However, first the plan needs to be created.

“We want to be strategic and make sure it’s aligned with what the community says they need on the comprehensive needs assessment,” Swanicke said. “You can’t spend the money to help support the teacher or allocate the resources until you have the plan done.”

That assessment or survey, which will be conducted by an independent vendor outside of the district, will be administered this fall, she said.

“The main priority is for us to do a comprehensive needs assessment,” where “we’ll have an external group come in and they’ll be the ones running the show, collecting information from all of our stakeholders. From there, we’ll develop a plan based on what the community has identified as priorities for the school. That’s how we can spend our funds going forward,” Swanicke said.

Dau said the parent survey will likely ask questions from “where do you feel your kid needs the most help,” “does your child talk about school in a positive way” and if there is a need for after-school programming to “do you feel welcomed when you go to the school” and if parents can find all the information they need in their language.

“It gives us a lot of information in terms of how to support the school, and not just with how to use Title I money, so it’s a positive thing,” she said, adding that it can also alert school officials if families are unaware of existing resources they may need. 

The assessment also will survey teachers, instructional aides, administration, PTA, school community council members and others. 

Then the data is analyzed, with respect to the school’s data, for consistent patterns.

“They can tell us ‘This is what we’re seeing across the board’ and help direct us to what are our three to five areas of greatest need,” Dau said.

Then, officials will create its plan, budget and put in the state application this school year to become a full Title I program.

“Everything on the Title I budget has to be connected to something that’s being exposed in the needs assessment either through data or through parent, student and teacher feedback,” Dau said. “And everything you’re using to support kids has to be research-based. You have to be able to cite this is a program that’s been vetted and is accepted by the Department of Education and by the state of Utah. Everything has to be tied somehow to instruction; the Playworks coach can be paid for out of Title I to help with recess play and social and emotional learning, but you can’t buy a bag of candy as a teacher and use that every time a kid is good and pay for that out of Title I money.”

Swanicke said that the funds will be used for student achievement.

“We definitely want to show progress toward our student growth and make sure we’re showing progress,” she said.

On the flip side, if Midvalley doesn’t meet student progress, it could be placed on turnaround status as a low-performing school.

“When you’re a Title I school and you’re accepting Title I money, that’s when a school can be pushed into turnaround status,” Dau said.

However, officials point to numerous benefits to students and their families that come with Title I funding.

“Every student gets breakfast who wants it at 8:20. We also get healthy snacks a couple times a week,” Swanicke said.

Many Title I schools offer preschools, so from age 3 to 12 elementary schools provide students and their families educational opportunities in one location.  

Parent engagement also is a part of the Title I program so depending on the needs assessment, that could include Watch Dogs, multicultural nights, teaching how to use manipulatives during a math night or DYAD reading during a literacy night or even grandparents & goodies or parents & pastries, or whatever need is identified, Dau said.

Canyons Director of Elementary Schools McKay Robinson said that former Canyons Director of Federal and State Programs Karen Sterling worked toward moving Midvalley to a Title I status for years since “its demographics are in line with other Title I schools in the state.”

Swanicke said that Midvalley “has always been a school that we’ve looked at as needing the support from Title I and the district is in a place where, I don’t know if the stars aligned, they just decided let’s move forward with it. The reason we’re becoming Title I is because of the needs in the community that we can better meet if we have that more strategic plan and have all the pieces here.”