Education Leaders Lay Out Preparations for 2020-21 School Year
Equitable access to connectivity and ensuring students receive school meals are two of several prioritiesÂ greater Houston education leaders are incorporating intoÂ plans for the upcoming school year.
The Partnership webinar on school reopening plans held on July 29 featured two guests:
Dr. Rodney Watson, Superintendent of Spring Independent School District. Spring ISD serves more than 35,000 K-12 students
Dr. Pam Wells, Executive Director of Region 4 Education Service Center, one of 20 regional centers that assists school districts and charter schools in improving efficiencies and student performance. Region 4 serves a seven-county area comprised of 48 public school districts and 39 open-enrollment charter schools, representing more than 1.2 million students, 99,000 educators, and 1,500 campuses.
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.Â
âPlanning is a real key to success for our educational system,â saidÂ Wells. âOur superintendents have had to make changes on an almost weekly basis.â
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.
âThe very best place for children to be educated is the classroom,â saidÂ Wells. âAs we know what is happening with our community today with the spread of COVID-19, it makes it very challenging.â
Spring ISD Offers Options for 2020-21 School Year
Spring ISD is offering two options for the upcoming school year â Safety-First In-Person and Empowered Learning At-Home.Â
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 âgreenâ (a minimal and controlled level of COVID-19 in our community, meaning new instances of transmission are limited) to âredâ (a severe and uncontrolled level of COVID-19 in our community, meaning outbreaks are present and worsening).Â
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. Thereâll also be changing to how the classroom is laid out within the district. That includes plexiglass dividers installed where physical distancing isnât feasible and student school supplies kept separate.Â
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.Â
âOne 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, â said Wells. âThis was a real challenge for families as well.â
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.Â
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 TEAÂ toÂ 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 ISDâs 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.Â
Ensuring Student Meals ContinueÂ
Watson noted about 80% of Spring ISDâs 35,000 students are economically disadvantaged, so child nutrition was one of several priorities district leadership included in their plans.Â
âWe have a lot of families who depend on us for meals for their children,â saidÂ Watson.Â
Spring ISD conducted curbside pickup for families this past Spring, saidÂ Watson. âWe 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.â
Wells echoed the priority of ensuring children in the regionâs 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.Â
âAs a community, we need to do everything we can to recognize that itâs a really critical problem.â
Learn more about the reopening plans of area districts here. See Spring ISDâs plan for the 2020-21 school year here.
PartnershipÂ webinarsÂ are open to Partnership members. Members also have ongoing access to a recording of the presentation. Learn more about membership.Â