CONWAY — Following a school year in which frequent fighting was reported at Kennett High School, on Monday with a narrow 3-2 vote, the Conway School Board agreed to create a family liaison position at Kennett High School.
The first two years of the job will be paid by ESSER (American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief) funds that the Conway School District was able to secure due to COVID-19.
Superintendent Kevin Richard said a portion of the ESSER funding was specifically earmarked for this position.
“This was written into the ESSER proposal for some time,” he said.
“We also have heard that there are significant needs as a result of returning from the (COVID-19) pandemic. This is part of the plan to address those needs. So we have in this proposal the social worker, as well as the family support liaison.
“If you’re asking the administration to address some of these issues, then they need to be provided the support,” Richard said.
School board member Ryan Wallace, a former school resource officer at Kennett, advocated for the position.
“I think that we have to consider the
situation that some kids are living in in this community,” he said, describing “high school kids living in hotel rooms with just a few pairs of pants and shirts.
“The guidance counselor’s role is to provide them guidance for life after high school,” Wallace said. “The family support liaison is providing them with connections to support their home life, and these kids are coming into school with situations that most of us can’t wrap our minds around. If this person can help connect with them, then I support the position.”
After two years, if the board wants to maintain the position, it would go before the voters as a warrant article in April 2024 to be voted on for the 2024-25 school year.
The role of a family support liaison is to serve as their school’s contact with community service agencies for at-risk populations. They make sure emergency services are provided (food, clothing and shelter), recommend and design alternative education programs and pursue grant opportunities.
Richard recommended to the board that they establish a position of full-time family support liaison effective with the 2022-23 school year.
School board members voting to support Richard’s recommendation were Cassie Capone, Michelle Cappozoli and Ryan Wallace, while board members Randy Davison and Joe Mosca opposed the move.
Richard anticipates a salary of $47,780 with an anticipated tax burden range (based on annual salary and benefits) of $67,987 to $81,682.
Mosca objected because “we’re talking about closing a school because of money. So how can we create new positions without eliminating other positions? I will not be voting for this until I see a plan that eliminates something.”
Capozzoli said the board’s personnel committee supports the position since it will be funded through grant money for the first two years and “it is a needed position at the high school right now.”
Davison opposed the hire because he said if there is a need for the liaison, it should have been included in the budget cycle for the 2022-23 school year.
“The board should be well aware of that in advance,” he said, adding, “Family liaison positions at the elementary schools, I think, are justified.”
Davison added: “I think the social worker is in place and what we have in place validates what we need.”
In addition, he said, “the enrollment’s going down. I can’t support this even with grant funding.”
Kennett High is the lone school in the district without a family liaison. Through ESSER funds, the board has had a social worker at the school for the past two years.
The family liaisons are Allison McAllister at Kennett Middle School, David Olson at John H. Fuller Elementary, Tracy Vokey at Pine Tree School and Amanda McDonald at Conway Elementary. McAllister is in her sixth year in that role, Olson and Vokey are in the seventh year of their posts, and McDonald is in her 18th year in that role. She was the first family support liaison in the district.
Beth Corbett of Bartlett is in her third year as family support liaison for Josiah Bartlett Elementary School.
Liaison tasks includes record-keeping, custody court orders, conducting home visits, accompanying families to appointments, creating student success plans and coordinating community-based support, such as End 68 Hours of Hunger.
According to McDonald, who met with the board in November of 2018, “The day can change pretty quickly. It can start out as a check-in on a student and then turn into a DCYF (Division for Children Youth & Families) call. A five-minute check-in can lead to a series of substantive phone calls.”
“Our valley has changed over time, and so have some of the needs of children and their families,” McDonald shared with the board in February 2017. She identified poverty and lack of affordable housing as issues the liaisons see regularly.
At that meeting, Olson asked whether the board could identify the No. 1 stressor for kids in a family in poverty. Board members tossed out answers that included “lack of food” and “need for clothing or a home.” All good answers but not the top response.
“Library books,” answered Olson. “This is a huge stressor for children because they’re never in a place long enough. It’s the stress of having to keep track of books and fees.”