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It's Time for an ESSER Halftime Review

We’re halfway through the ESSER funding timeline—but district leaders still have time to create lasting change. 

Two years ago, district leaders huddled and strategized to find the best way to use ESSER’s unprecedented infusion of funds—but no district could have put precisely the right supports in place to protect against the current landscape.

The pandemic exacerbated existing challenges with disproportionate impact on students of color and students with higher needs—including students from low-income backgrounds; English learners; students with disabilities; and students experiencing homelessness, foster care, or in the juvenile justice system.

As district leaders have adapted and implemented initiatives to support students through this period, they’ve encountered significant barriers: hiring, supply chain and procurement challenges, insufficient existing central capacity, and understaffing that is often concentrated at the highest-need schools.

In our work with schools across the country, we’ve learned that virtually no ESSER plans are unfolding as expected—and the student needs may be much greater than originally anticipated two years ago. 

The good news: there’s much more ESSER money left to spend. And with two years left for ESSER resources, there’s more than enough time to spend these funds in strategic ways that make a difference for the children who need it most.  

Now is the moment to reflect and learn—and then take action. It starts with an ESSER Halftime Review. 

Using a "Halftime Review" for Strategic Planning

Many district leaders really haven't had time to step back and reflect as a full team. District leaders can seize the current opportunity to lead valuable conversations across their leadership teams and align their ESSER strategy to their overall district strategy for a unified approach that will last beyond ESSER’s timeline. 

Planning time is precious, and district leaders can benefit from focusing that time with tested, proven resources. That’s why we designed our new downloadable resource, “How to Approach an ESSER Halftime Review: Deciding what investments to start, stop, and scale." It's a guide to help facilitate productive conversations, informed by data, that lead to better outcomes for students.

These concepts are grounded in our 7 Principles for Investing ESSER Funds in Recovery & Redesign—proven, data-driven ideals that have led districts to positive outcomes for the past two years. With this Halftime Review guide, district leaders can understand what is working about their ESSER spending strategy and make strategic decisions about where to re-focus efforts for better outcomes.  


“Our Halftime Review was about conversations and digging into the data, connecting with various stakeholders, and identifying
where we would need to readjust as we move forward."
 Hartford Public Schools 


The most effective ESSER strategies aren’t the ones that are perfect off the bat, but the ones that are improved and iterated upon over time. With two years’ of data points and experience, leaders have never been in a better position to reflect, adapt, and chart a path towards lasting impact. 

How to Approach an ESSER Halftime Review 

Our ESSER Halftime Review process occurs in three distinct phases: collecting data, interpreting the data, and action planning for what’s next. While timing will vary, a typical Halftime Review could take a few weeks for data collection and interpretation, culminating in an opportunity for district leaders to action plan. However, every district is different, so it’s important to set aside enough time for each phase. One district recommends that leaders “plan on twice the amount of time that you initially think [this will take]. Allow for yourself to have more time to go through data and understand long-term trends." 

This phase lays the groundwork for all future discussions and decision-making. In this step, leaders and data teams assemble quantitative and qualitative data around ESSER spending to date—a process that might take a few weeks, depending on how much data has already been tracked. 

As part of this step, district teams are encouraged to:  

  • Identify student needs, quantifying need across the district by student group, grade level, and school. In Phase 2, this data helps build the case for urgent action and guides the allocation of resources. 
  • Understand how ESSER dollars have been spent and allocated to date and what's still available. In Phase 2, this information helps inform prioritization and decision-making. 

"This exercise established what the realities were for us on the ground and freed people to start to think more creatively about what we could do.” — Hartford Public Schools 

In this phase, district leaders interpret and make meaning out of the data to understand the impact of decisions made so far, and identify the "enabling conditions"—the policies and context that make bold, positive change possible—that will lead to successful outcomes.

Through this step, district leaders will:

  • Understand how the district is targeting resources according to student needs.
  • Find ways to disrupt patterns of inequity. Leaders can use guiding questions to reflect on the systems, structures, and practices that contribute to inequitable experiences and outcomes for students—and identify ways that new investments can work to correct them.
  • Plan for sustainability. District leaders should understand how funds are being used to target near-term COVID-recovery needs while laying the groundwork for long-term redesign. In this step, leaders are encouraged to size the full cost of implementing strategies over time. This will help prepare for a post-ESSER world where initiatives will need to be sustained through other funding sources.
  • Understand system conditions. With so many decisions that need to be made quickly, it's important that district leaders are clear around the structures and limitations in place that could impact decision-making and resouce use. For instance, what decisions can (or should) be made by the school versus the central office? Where is it important to collaborate with the school board or local community?

This is where rubber meets the road. In this step, leaders reflect on learnings from the first two phases and identify where they can stop, start, and scale ESSER invesments to maximize impact per dollar

In this phase, leaders can: 

  • Revisit the 7 guiding principles of ESSER to think about what good stewardship of ESSER looks like 
  • Identify critical focus areas and next steps that align with these principles. For instance: 
    • Reprogramming funds to invest in the highest-impact opportunities 
    • Redesigning staffing and scheduling to allow for more collaboration time between teachers  
    • Improving data collection systems to enable continuous improvement
  • Consider when and how to involve the community in understanding student needs and defining success. Many districts use family engagement surveys or town halls to incorporate these valuable perspectives into the action planning process. 

Halftime Review Tools

Our new downloadable resource, “How to Approach an ESSER Halftime Review: Deciding what investments to start, stop, and scale" provides the framing for productive, meaningful leadership conversations. This document lays out the priority areas and discussion questions for each of these three phases. District leaders can use this document as a guided facilitation to help organize their thinking and arrive at the most impactful next steps. 



Want more inspiration about how to pair your district’s COVID recovery data with qualitative analysis? Some district partners that we’ve worked with have found it valuable to use one central tool that can track their data, insights, and next steps in one place. This Excel document is available for use as inspiration or as a customizable starting point for district leaders seeking to step back and reflect on their ESSER investment strategy and identify adaptations to maximize its impact moving forward. 



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