County schools to receive $8.2 million for COVID relief

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The Walker County Board of Education is receiving more money to help with coronavirus relief.

At last Thursday's meeting of the school board, superintendent Dr. Dennis Willingham said $8.2 million will be given to the school system as part of the latest round of Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) funding.

"We're thrilled with that. We believe that we can really make a lot of progress with that extra funding," Willingham said.

Like the last relief allotment, there will be restrictions on how the money can be spent. According to Willingham, more information on the restrictions and timelines for spending should be provided in the coming weeks.

"The goals that were presented to us at the superintendent's conference last week were to improve mental health and well-being, close academic gaps for the pandemic, improve building infrastructures — heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems — and also to create more enrichment opportunities for special population students," he said.

Willingham announced at the school board's January meeting that school system leaders have discussed before and after school tutoring, summer learning programs and enrichment activities as possible projects that could be funded with a portion of the $8.2 million.  

In other business, Willingham made a number of announcements to include:

• an update on school construction projects. Dugouts and a backstop at Carbon Hill High School will be completed soon. Willingham said meetings have also been held with architects regarding new bleachers and light poles at Curry High School's football field and the construction of a gymatorium at Sumiton Elementary School.  

• the confirmation that some teachers have been able to get vaccinated for COVID-19. 

The Walker Area Community Foundation, Walker Baptist Medical Center and Dustin Beaty of Hospital Discount Pharmacy were credited with helping to provide vaccines for educators. Willingham said the vaccine slots available went fast, and he's hopeful more teachers and staff will have the opportunity to get vaccinated in the weeks to come.  

"We know that all of our educators and all of our support staff in the state of Alabama became eligible for a COVID vaccine beginning on Feb. 8, but they (the vaccines) are hard to find right now," he said. "We're doing all we can to find those as they become available at our doctor's offices and our pharmacies." 

• a notice that the school system will begin having occasional work sessions, beginning next month.

"I don't know how many work sessions we've ever had in the past. I don't remember one, so we are very excited," Willingham said. "This is something that the board members had talked with me about, and we're going to make it happen. We want to be as transparent as we possibly can, and we know that there are a lot of important items that we need to discuss as a board and me as the superintendent."

The school board's first work session is scheduled for Thursday, March 4, at 4 p.m.  

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