In a bid to give students more “equitable” access to tutoring, the Galt Joint Union High School District Board of Trustees has approved a contract with an online education company, though not without some skepticism. The board also inducted new student representatives and recognized retiring staff for their years of service,

Under the one-year, roughly $110,000 contract with Paper Education, each student in the district will have access to online tutoring in core subjects. It offers instruction in multiple languages, including English, Spanish and French.

Paper representative Aghiles Boumati touted the company’s “instant and unlimited 24/7 tutoring support.”

Boumati said the tutors, who are Paper employees, are trained to guide students with schoolwork by asking them questions, rather than giving the answers. Interactions are carried out over chat, and they are recorded and viewable by teachers.

The company also offers an essay review service, which allows students to upload written material and receive feedback with 24 hours.

District Director of Educational Services Sean Duncan said the district is running a pilot with about 100 students. He continued that the students have had 115 tutoring sessions and submitted 40 essays on the service. Duncan said the turnaround on the essays has been two to three hours.

Contracting with Paper is a way to help bring down the number of D’s and F’s that students get, Duncan said, and it removes barriers of finances and time that often prevent students from getting tutoring.

Paper “is just one more way that we can provide that instruction, and it does it in an equitable way,” Duncan said.

Trustee Melissa Neuburger was enthusiastic about the prospect, particularly the wide range of availability and the language options.

“I think it’s a huge benefit with equity because we’re offering this in Spanish. I mean this is the first time we’ve had full tutoring available in Spanish for any student that needs it,” Neuburger said.

Though Trustee Mark Beck supported the idea, he floated the possibility of shortening the contract length to six months, with an option to extend to a full year, something which trustees Patrick Maple and Dennis Richardson expressed interest in. Beck said he felt the tutoring would dovetail with computer skills education.

Richardson had multiple questions about the language of the contract. While Paper advertises “24/7” access, he felt that the contract does not reflect this.

Richardson cited a passage that reads, “Educators qualified to interact with students on all courses topics may not be available at all times.” Additionally, the contract states that the platform “shall be available 95% of the time, calculated on a monthly basis.”

Boumati responded that round-the-clock availability is guaranteed for all subjects in English, Spanish and French; however, tutoring in other languages may not always be on offer for all subjects.

The Paper representative characterized the 95% service level as a “minimum standard,” saying that, if Paper falls below that minimum, the district will have the option of ending the contract and getting a refund.

The board approved the one-year contract 3-2. Richardson voted against the measure, and Maple joined him, changing his initial “yes” vote to a “no.” Duncan offered to go over the contract with Richardson.

Three student representatives from each of the district’s high schools were sworn in at the beginning of the meeting: Joseph Torrez from Galt High School, Larissa Reyes from Liberty Ranch High School and Juanita Pamplona-Barron from Estrellita High School. Superintendent Lisa Pettis gifted each of them a pocket-sized Declaration of Independence

The trustees took a few minutes to honor two retiring district staff members. Manuel Martin, a member of the Galt High custodial staff for 10 years, took pride in his job, according to a statement from GHS Principal Kellie Beck, and talked with students about the importance of education.

Jeanie Westerman has retired after 21 years as a special-education case manager at Liberty Ranch High. Liberty Ranch Principal Joe Saramago thanked Westerman for her service.