When Lubbock ISD school trustees and Superintendent Dr. Kathy Rollo set a “north star” goal several years ago for at least 80% of their students to be educated at an A or B campus by 2024, they did not anticipate the impact of a pandemic. Once COVID disrupted students’ education, they agreed to extend the timeline for achieving their goal to 2026. However, this fall Lubbock ISD is on the cusp of attaining their goal with 75% of their students educated at an A or B campus. Superintendent Kathy Rollo and Chief Academic Officer Misty Rieber shared how they have invested federal ESSER funds in ways that have accelerated students’ achievement.

ESSER-funded summer school programs in 2021 and 2022 effectively launched the school year.  While LISD has offered summer school in the past using Title 1 funding, ESSER funds supported a more robust summer school.  The district was able to offer smaller classes and to add science and social studies. Students were provided with meals and transportation. Summer tutoring helped students get a head start on compliance with HB 4545, giving teachers and students more flexibility in the fall. Student attendance and participation were great, and Misty commended their staff for their dedication to making it a positive experience for students. “We saw incredible growth in our STAAR scores last May,” said Misty. This summer the district will once again offer summer school, doing a deep dive into campus data this spring to assess needs. At middle school, they will consider a more intensive focus on reading since most students needing intervention in science and social studies also need support with literacy.

A large proportion of Lubbock ISD’s ESSER funding has been used to compensate staff for teaching summer school and for tutorials, as well as to fund retention bonuses and stipends. While a few new positions have been added, Misty Rieber said they have prioritized paying current staff members because “they have really stepped up to take care of kids, and we are paying them to honor that.” Where staffing was increased, such as part-time interventionists in elementary schools, the district is already considering options for sustainability, including Title funds, Compensatory Education funds, and grants. “We have been careful about not adding too many new people,” said Dr. Rollo.

Dr. Rollo and the LISD trustees also prioritized support for students’ well-being as part of their ESSER plan, staffing a position for a part-time counseling clerk at every campus to handle paperwork and free up counselors for other responsibilities. A grant with a local partner organization funded campus-based specialists to coach teachers and students on strategies for supporting students’ behavioral and emotional well-being. Dr. Rollo said LISD’s investments in professional development were an effective way of using short-term funding, while the district is seeking long-term funding through grants to sustain the training after 2024. She also noted that with all the trauma that students and families have endured, she sees students’ mental health as a component of school safety. Echoing the Texas School Alliance legislative agenda, Dr. Rollo commented that state funding for school safety and security should offer districts flexibility to use the funds according to their needs.

While they have made some capital outlays such as for HVAC, flooring, outdoor learning spaces and restroom sanitation improvements, the process for those has been especially cumbersome. The facilities team has been challenged by the rigorous procurement and approval processes, on top of inflation and supply chain issues, as well as managing the districts’ bond projects. Lubbock ISD has been through their first TEA audit, and while they had to submit comprehensive data, they made sure along the way they would be audit-ready. Dr. Rollo advised districts to, “Keep really good notes!”

“We have probably over-shared how we are using the ESSER funds,” said Misty, explaining that they have regular meetings with the Board finance committee to update them on ESSER spending. Each time the Board votes on a purchase, it’s noted if ESSER funds are used. Just recently, they purchased band instruments with the funds so that students would not have to share, with a Board member commenting, “that’s a great use of ESSER funds” for a one-time purchase.

In Lubbock ISD, ESSER funds have already provided a return on investment in terms of student achievement. Dr. Rollo commented that “while we are celebrating a lot of progress, we know we still have areas of concern, but we have lots of success stories like Wolffarth Elementary, the highest performing elementary school in our entire region, which scored a 98—about the same percentage of students at the campus who are economically disadvantaged.” Accomplishments such as this don’t result just from ESSER funding, they result from thoughtful strategic planning, effective leadership, and dedicated teachers and campus staff.

Read more: 2022 TEA Accountability Ratings: Lubbock ISD scores a B (everythinglubbock.com)