As Columbia County classes resume this week, about 70 fewer paraprofessionals are in the county’s classrooms.
In response to state funding cuts, the county school board voted in March to cut 35 teaching positions and one-third of the system’s teacher aides in first and second grades.
Each elementary school has lost an average of three paraprofessionals, school Superintendent Charles Nagle said.
Only 131 paraprofessionals remain in elementary schools. Kindergarten parapros will not be affected by the cuts because they’re funded by the state.
“We have given the principals flexibility to use those parapros in any way that they feel they need to to help instruction,” Nagle said.
Paraprofessionals could now receive specialized training to help educators work with children individually, said Columbia County schools Director of Elementary Education Michele Sherman.
“I really think, as odd as it sounds, it is really going to open the door for us to use the skills of the paraprofessionals that we have very wisely now,” she said.
A major advantage of the new plan, Sherman said, is that the school system can begin hiring substitutes at the lower grade levels.
“Our parapros were actually used as substitutes for the past few years to cut down on substitute costs,” she said. “We’re able to hire substitutes again. That’s really big for us.”
The cuts likely won’t affect the block-scheduling program, first implemented for kindergartners at Grovetown Elementary School during the 2010-2011 school year, Nagle said.
“I’m sure that ... they’ve had to do some tweaking, but they feel that they will still be able to meet those same criteria that they’ve been doing,” Nagle said.
The block schedule separated pupils into three groups of no more than eight children. They received 30 minutes of intense reading instruction in the mornings and another 30 minutes of math in the afternoons.
As one group received instruction, other groups got 30 minutes of recess, 30 minutes of story time, 30 minutes working with instructional games or 30 minutes of added instruction.
“It is incumbent upon having those parapros to help offset some of the (larger) class size(s) and working with the students,” Nagle said.
The program improved the reading and math skills of kindergartners so much that other county elementary schools, such as North Harlem, followed suit.
Grovetown expanded the program last year for first-graders.
“We have really found lots of success with that, and we’re thrilled that we’re able to continue to offer it,” Sherman said.