What is the Student Opportunity Act? Can it help save Brockton schools?

BROCKTON — The Brockton Public Schools submitted its 2024 Student Opportunity Act last month, which outlines how the district will address and fund the needs of students with the lowest academic performance over the next three years – particularly students with disabilities, English learners and students classified as low-income.

The Student Opportunity Act (SOA) was first passed in 2019 by former Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker to rewrite the formula the state uses to calculate how much money each public school district in the state receives. The new formula would give a bigger portion to school districts where students had the greatest needs.

In 2020, as part of the SOA, every district had to submit a three-year plan to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE). With the first three years coming to an end, BPS had to draft and submit a new plan for the next three years by April 1.

Brockton will receive roughly $15 million more in SOA money for the upcoming school year than it received last year, thanks to the recalculation. BPS officials met with DESE in early April to discuss how the district will use the additional money to fund the programs highlighted in its 2024 SOA plan.

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How will BPS use the extra money?

BPS plans to hire more social and emotional learning staff using the SOA cash to strengthen its support system for Brockton students who are struggling. According to the 2024 SOA, the district hopes to hire 15 more school psychologists, adding five every year. Currently, BPS employs nine psychologists and has room in its budget for three more.

“Based on Brockton’s enrollment, we should roughly employ 32 full-time psychologists. We employ nine,” said James LaBillois, assistant superintendent of unified student services at a March 26 Brockton School Committee meeting.

According to LaBillois, the National Association of School Psychologists recommends a ratio of one school psychologist for every 500 students across the district.

Amid a major spike in demand for mental health services, BPS’s nine psychologists, “can’t keep up with the volume,” said LaBillois.

Implement inclusive curriculum

According to a DESE review of BPS published in March 2020, the quality of Brockton’s curriculum sharply plummeted between 2014 and 2019 as BPS removed administrative positions that oversaw curriculum due to budget cuts.

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Deputy Superintendent of Teaching and Learning Sharon Wolder said that Brockton High School has a major need for “high quality instructional materials” in English language arts and science. The district plans to hire more teaching staff to boost the English and Science departments at the secondary level.

In addition, BPS will invest in higher quality instruction and screening processes for early literacy, as elementary school students have fallen behind in literacy achievement levels.

Helping vulnerable students

Wolder said the district has identified three student groups who need the most academic and emotional support, and the 2024 SOA will target the needs of students in those categories.

According to Wolder, 28.6% of BPS students are English language learners, who have a higher rate of dropping out of school compared to other students.

“We have to develop more programming that supports our students,” Wolder said.

More: Brockton School psychologists overwhelmed with caseloads. Officials say more needed.

Similarly, roughly 18% of Brockton students have a disability – a student population that has higher chronic absenteeism and suspension rates compared to the average, according to Wolder.

Many students in Brockton are classified by DESE as low-income. Wolder said that low-income kids make up the largest percentage of students in the district’s pathway programs, which offer unique education styles outside of Brockton High.

The needs of these groups of students informed the district’s decision to focus on hiring more social emotional learning staff, strengthening the English and science curriculums and improving early literacy over the next three years.


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