Published Jul 29, 2020 by Maggie Martin
Equitable access to connectivity and ensuring students receive school meals are two of several priorities greater Houston education leaders are incorporating into plans for the upcoming school year.
The Partnership webinar on school reopening plans held on July 29 featured two guests:
School Leaders Navigate a Changing Landscape
Dr. Wells said its been a challenge for superintendents her organization works with to make decisions for the coming year.
“Planning is a real key to success for our educational system,” said Wells. “Our superintendents have had to make changes on an almost weekly basis.”
Wells noted new guidance the Texas Education Agency issued earlier in the week. She said educators are trying to balance the need to educate students while also keeping them safe.
“The very best place for children to be educated is the classroom,” said Wells. “As we know what is happening with our community today with the spread of COVID-19, it makes it very challenging.”
Spring ISD Offers Options for 2020-21 School Year
Spring ISD is offering two options for the upcoming school year – Safety-First In-Person and Empowered Learning At-Home.
The Safety-First In-Person option is designed to allow for more days of in-person instruction when there are minimal and controlled levels of COVID-19 in the area and moving to Empowered Learning At-Home if outbreaks of the virus occur. The school district has been making plans based on four scenarios, which range from “green” (a minimal and controlled level of COVID-19 in our community, meaning new instances of transmission are limited) to “red” (a severe and uncontrolled level of COVID-19 in our community, meaning outbreaks are present and worsening).
Dr. Watson noted the district spent a lot of time gathering feedback from parents and staff on plans for the coming year. Spring ISD has drafted plans that address several areas including transportation, school nutrition and school schedules. There’ll also be changing to how the classroom is laid out within the district. That includes plexiglass dividers installed where physical distancing isn’t feasible and student school supplies kept separate.
The school district also developed an intersessional calendar that provides opportunities for the school district to extend the school year through the end of June 2021.
Equitable Access to Connectivity
Both guests underscored the need to ensure equity and access to devices and connectivity for remote learning.
“One of the huge challenges is that not all of Houston children have devices and connectivity to be successful when they switched to virtual learning earlier this year, “ said Wells. “This was a real challenge for families as well.”
Even for those parents and children who end up back in school, we know there will be situation where schools will have to shut down, so virtual learning will continue to be an important part of education planning going forward, Wells said.
Earlier this month, Governor Greg Abbott announced the State of Texas was allocating $200 million in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) funding to the TEA to purchase of eLearning devices and home internet solutions for remote learning. The TEA gave Region 4 the authority to administer this state bulk order purchase. Wells said this is going to allow over 1 million devices and 480,000 hotspots to be purchased with state funds providing matching dollars for the majority of requested devices and hotspots.
Spring ISD’s efforts have included ordering 11,000 Chromebooks and allocating over $5 million to purchase technology to support remote learning. The district will also support families through digital and nondigital modes, including an enhanced Help Desk that will be made available in multiple languages.
Ensuring Student Meals Continue
Watson noted about 80% of Spring ISD’s 35,000 students are economically disadvantaged, so child nutrition was one of several priorities district leadership included in their plans.
“We have a lot of families who depend on us for meals for their children,” said Watson.
Spring ISD conducted curbside pickup for families this past Spring, said Watson. “We are looking at alternative ways to get food to students neighborhoods and their bus stops. We will not sacrifice feeding our kids for any reason.”
Wells echoed the priority of ensuring children in the region’s school districts are fed. She said there were many more children who were eligible to get food than families came to pick up in the spring, so there is a gap.
“As a community, we need to do everything we can to recognize that it’s a really critical problem.”
Partnership webinars are open to Partnership members. Members also have ongoing access to a recording of the presentation. Learn more about membership.