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More than 2,500 Harford County Public Schools students expected to attend Learning Support Centers in fall

More than 2,500 Harford County Public Schools students are expected to attend Learning Support Centers in the first semester, according to data from the parent intention survey provided Thursday by the school system.

School system leaders are planning on holding all-virtual classes for the first semester of the upcoming school year, which begins Sept. 8, and the final version of the HCPS operating plan is scheduled to be presented when the Board of Education meets Monday. The final version must be submitted to the state by Aug. 14.

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School officials sought feedback from families as to how many students will be using Learning Support Centers next year; HCPS is making limited space available in its buildings for students to gather in person during the school day under adult supervision while still being instructed online.

A survey inquiring about demand for the learning centers closed Tuesday; the results of that survey showed 2,519 students are expected to attend Learning Support Centers at least one day per week.

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More than 38,000 students were enrolled in the Harford County Public Schools system for the 2019-20 school year.

A majority of those students slated to attend learning centers — about 1,540 — go to elementary schools. Respondents indicated 481 middle school students and 310 high school students, would attend learning centers. About 20 attend other programs and 168 respondents did not indicate which school their child attends.

Youth’s Benefit (118), Homestead/Wakefield (115) and Red Pump (99) elementary, and Bel Air Middle (86), were the schools with the most demand for the Learning Support Centers. Approximately 1,730 indicated they would need transportation; 1,550 would need meals and nearly 725 expressed interest in before or after care, although only elementary students would be eligible for such care.

Any parent or guardians who decide they are interested in a learning center, following the closing of the survey Tuesday, will be put on a waiting list through their child’s school. They will be notified should a slot become available, “based on space and staffing,” according to Jillian Lader, HCPS’ manager of communications.

The school system has posted a link on its website with information about applying to be a learning support center assistant.

It is estimated more than 600 assistants would be needed to operate the Learning Support Centers, according to the weekly update from the HCPS administration to the Board of Education.

Jean Mantegna, the assistant superintendent for human resources, said some of those will be para-educators, inclusion helpers and other support staff already employed by the school system. Others could be central office employees, where a supervisor can release them from their current role to provide oversight and supervision at the centers.

”To maintain very, very small group sizes of no more than 10 individuals, including the adult staff [and] students, we’re going to need to do some supplementing with some hires,” Mantega said. “We hope to augment our current staff with some additional hires on a temporary basis.”

Current plans call for two assistants and eight students per cluster, according to the update to the board of education. Schools must work within CDC guidelines, which limit the number of people in a group to 10 or fewer.

Mantegna noted it’s hard to say exactly how many people the school system will be hiring — it will depend on how many existing employees and resources they can put toward supporting the centers. “It could be half or less, if we need to use a rough number,” she said.

The positions are open to anyone with a high school diploma or greater education, “but it would be ideal for individuals who are retirees or those who are interested in moving into the education arena,” Mantegna said.

The pay would be $13 per hour for applicants without a degree and $14 per hour with a degree, according to the application on the school system’s website.

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“We’re looking for individuals with customer service experience, those with a passion for working with students. Those are the kind of skill sets we’re looking for at this moment,” she added.

As of Thursday, the school system had received about 70 applications, Mantegna said.

The school system will reallocate existing resources in its $503.3 million operating budget to cover the costs of operating the Learning Support Centers, said Deborah Judd, the Assistant Superintendent for Business Services.

”In addition, we will continue to seek grant opportunities that may support these costs,” Judd wrote in an email. She was not certain how much operating the learning centers for the first semester is expected to cost, “as we are still finalizing needs and staffing.”

Aegis reporter David Anderson contributed to this article.

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