In Episode 4, we hear from Melinda Young, superintendent of Steubenville City Public Schools, Kayla Whitlatch, Steubenville’s treasurer, and Lynnett Gorman, the district’s federal grants administrator, about how ESSER funds are allowing Steubenville to construct a STEM building connected to the high school, which they view as a long-term investment in students’ dreams and post-pandemic economic growth. “This is the money to use for our dreams that we probably would never have had enough money to do any other way,” Young says. In Geary County, Kansas, Dr. Deb Gustafson, associate superintendent, and Jennie Black, director of curriculum and instruction, say their ESSER funds are being used for essentials — like improving the knowledge and skills of teachers, raising pay for substitute teachers, paying for math and ELA curricula, and — they hope — hiring cooks to improve school lunches.

Kimberly Hoffman, executive director, data monitoring and compliance, and Jennie Wu, director of school improvement, both in Baltimore City Public Schools, note that they, too, are having trouble finding staff — particularly social workers and school nurses — and talk about how they are dealing with those issues. Dr. Lorna Lewis, superintendent of Malverne School District in Nassau County, New York, adds speech therapists to the list of candidates who are in short supply.

Throughout the episodes, we hear directly from expert education leaders about the significant challenges that they are facing. While they all note that many students and school staff have experienced loss and hardship amid the pandemic, these leaders also seem steadfast about keeping calm in the face of obstacles and ready to turn this challenging moment into an opportunity to greatly improve instruction.