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  • Staff photo by Bob Hammerstrom


    Emily Sand works on math with first grader Riah Dean at the Ledge Street Elementary School Thursday, February 17, 2011. Sand's job is one of many that will be lost in the school district when federal stimulus funding runs out at the end of the year.




  • Staff photo by Bob Hammerstrom


    Emily Sand works on math with first graders Bryan Avila-Santos at the Ledge Street Elementary School Thursday, February 17, 2011. Sand's job is one of many that will be lost in the school district when federal stimulus funding runs out at the end of the year.




  • Staff photo by Bob Hammerstrom


    Emily Sand works on math with first graders Bryan Avila-Santos at the Ledge Street Elementary School Thursday, February 17, 2011. Sand's job is one of many that will be lost in the school district when federal stimulus funding runs out at the end of the year.




  • Staff photo by Bob Hammerstrom


    Emily Sand works on math with first graders Bryan Avila-Santos, Riah Dean, top-right, and Noelia Mendoza, below, at the Ledge Street Elementary School Thursday, February 17, 2011. Sand's job is one of many that will be lost in the school district when federal stimulus funding runs out at the end of the year.




  • Staff photo by Don Himsel Samba Halkose assist immigrant children at the Ledge Street School in Nashua and is paid through economic stimulus funds. With her on Friday, December 18, 2009 were Adeline Mwajuma, left, and Grace Irunva.
  • Staff photo by Don Himsel Samba Halkose works with Prosper Nshimirimana at the Ledge Street School in Nashua Friday, December 18, 2009.
Monday, February 21, 2011

When the tap is dry

NASHUA – TJ Sheedy knew when he was hired as an attendance liaison for the city’s low-income schools it was a temporary gig.

Sheedy’s was one of dozens of positions created in the schools after the flood of federal stimulus funding arrived in 2009. The two-year federal grant gave Sheedy, 35, the opportunity to focus on attendance issues at Title I schools, where poverty and other social issues often drive up absenteeism and truancy rates.

“It’s been interesting seeing the poverty side of things, how that affects their day-to-day life,” Sheedy said. “It’s been eye-opening.”

Now Sheedy is preparing for the day he knew would eventually come – the funding for his position is running out at the end of the school year. Having already seen the budget proposal for next year, Sheedy knows his job is not one that is slated to be maintained through local spending and has started to look for another job.

“I’ve started looking here and there,” he said. “It’s tough in this economy, but I’d like to stay in the education part of things.”

Like Sheedy, school administrators are also preparing for the end of federal stimulus funding. In total, the Nashua School District will have received $6.1 million in funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

During the 2010-11 school year, the second year of the program, there are 71 positions paid for with $1.9 million in stimulus funding. Of those, $1.2 million is spent on positions working in special education programs. The rest are working in the city’s five Title I elementary schools.

Superintendent Mark Conrad has proposed keeping many of the special education positions for next year, including 35 special education paraprofessionals. Helping to buffer the loss of the federal stimulus money is $1.2 million from the federal Education Jobs Fund.

However, Conrad’s proposal would not continue funding for any of the 22 Title I positions, including Sheedy’s. That will mean the loss of 11 math interventionists spread across four schools, as well as five paraprofessionals at Dr. Crisp Elementary School and a refugee coordinator at Ledge Street Elementary School.

Pat Burns, Title I coordinator for the district, said she has already talked with the staff members in the positions being eliminated that their jobs will be cut.

“The teachers involved in this, they were very aware that this was a two-year grant,” Burns said. “But they really appreciate the honesty. It’s not a very pleasant thing to do.”

Burns has also started having discussions with the principals of the city’s low-income schools to come up with a plan for how to transition with the loss of the positions. The goal is to switch some of the schools’ literacy interventionists to math, so as not to lose the momentum the schools have built over the past two years in math.

“When we had all the principals together, we discussed that math was our focus,” Burns said. “They all said they wanted to continue math in some way.”

Ledge Street Principal Janet Valeri said the loss of the refugee coordinator is also significant, considering the school still has 11 students from refugee families. However, it’s not expected the school will be getting any more refugee students next year, she said.

Valeri said the coordinator position had a strong positive impact on the students. Refugee coordinator Samba Halkose served as a liaison to families and was able to network with parents, Valeri said.

“Those kids are now in a much better place,” Valeri said. “Many of them are not even requiring any level of intervention.”

Schools like Ledge Street were able to use stimulus money for more than just staff. Valeri said the school was able to upgrade technology, including purchasing netbooks for students and installing wireless Internet access. Unlike with staff, Valeri said those are purchases that will continue to benefit the school after the money runs out.

Even though it’s only a two-year position, Sheedy feels like he’s been able to make a difference in the district’s attendance problem during his tenure. Part of his job entails targeting students with a history of attendance problems and speaking with them about what the problems are. He also makes home visits, to speak with parents directly about attendance.

In some cases, attendance improved, but there are always other students who pop up during the year with attendance issues, Sheedy said.

“Overall, it made a pretty good dent,” Sheedy said. “We took a couple families to court, but it’s an ongoing battle.”

Once Sheedy’s position expires, it will once again leave Brian Soraghan as the district’s only truancy officer.

Michael Brindley can be reached at 594-6426 or mbrindley@nashuatelegraph.com.