Ector County ISD is looking at starting the year early and tacking on more optional instruction time during the summer to help combat summer and the projected COVID-19 slide.
Surveys also are going out to students about remote learning and a social-emotional survey and a separate survey is calling for feedback on a proposed calendar. The calendar survey has been sent to ECISD staff, but the survey also will be emailed to parents.
The remote learning-social-emotional survey was sent out near the end of school, but it will be re-sent, Public Information Officer Mike Adkins said. ECISD is especially looking for feedback from students in grades 3 through 12 on remote learning, but parents will be able to look through it as well.
It asks students about the availability of computers and other devices at home, adult support for their learning, their mental and physical well-being during the school closure, and other barriers they faced in learning from home, a news release said. The survey is being sent by Panorama, an ECISD partner, via email.
The form itself is being emailed and some paper copies will be provided. The ECISD Police Department and Community Outreach will provide paper copies to those who that may not have reliable internet access or email, Adkins said.
Adkins said the one-question calendar survey will be on the ECISD website, posted to Facebook and a link put on Twitter. He said later Tuesday that the calendar survey had already received swift reaction — everything from liking it to hating it.
Superintendent Scott Muri said Tuesday that starting Aug. 12 is the only option ECISD is looking at currently. It won’t change teacher contacts. Those will still be 187 days, he said.
“It does several things for us,” Muri said. “It gives us more time with students. First of all, we’re adding 11 student days to the calendar so we’re going from 169 (what they had this year) to 180 school days next year.”
“We’ve missed, obviously, a lot of time here in the ‘19-20 school year because of COVID-19 and we need more time with our kids and this calendar allows us to have more time with students. It also allows flexibility,” so some virtual days, along with bad weather/COVID-19 days have been built in.
“So if we do miss school days next year due to COVID-19, or for any other reason, we have extra days built in that we can use to substitute,” Muri said. “We also have the element of time because we’re adding 11 days to the calendar. Again, if we missed some days we may not have to make up some of those days because of the time that we’ve built into the calendar.”
He added that just because students may miss a day of school physically next year it doesn’t mean they will miss a day from an attendance perspective.
“This year, of course, we were closed physically for two and a half months, but we were able to continue the learning process. We fully anticipate those opportunities next year. We are building into the calendar, or really building into our own thinking, the probable reality that we may be closed multiple days or weeks next year for students and we won’t be able to teach those students virtually so we will equip our students, as well as our teachers, to be able to literally finish school on a Friday and then start school on a Monday virtually if we have to do that,” Muri said.
Something that House Bill 3, passed in the last legislative session, gives districts the option to add an extra 30 days to the calendar for elementary students in prekindergarten through fifth grade.
“… We are adding those additional 30 days to our calendar next summer. Those are optional days for students, and of course, optional days for staff members. We would hope that most, if not all, of our elementary students would want to take advantage of that opportunity,” Muri said.
That would give ECISD 210 days total with its elementary students.
“The primary reason why we need that extra time is because the research says that our elementary students were negatively impacted to the greatest extent during COVID-19. Our secondary students across the country were able to adapt a little bit more effectively to the virtual environment, but our elementary students were not as adaptable to that, specifically our youngest kids pre-k through 2. Those younger students had a challenging time in a virtual environment and we now have an opportunity as a district to give them not only 11 more days during the year, but 30 more days next summer. … We are thrilled to be able to offer that for the elementary students of ECISD,” Muri said.
Muri said he anticipates receiving results from the calendar survey either by the end of this week or early next week. He added that some of those preliminary findings will be shared with the ECISD Board of Trustees during their next meeting Tuesday.
“I anticipate the community being very positive about the fact that we want to spend more time with their children. I’ve listened to parents, especially. They recognize that the two and a half months of remote learning has not been an optimal experience for their kids, no matter what their situation has been. So they will appreciate the opportunity to return to an environment in which their kids have direct access to quality teachers. We’re glad to be able to provide that for them, but I think most families understand the need to extend the amount of time that we spend with students the next year,” Muri said.
While remote learning has given parents more respect for teachers, Muri said remote learning has given teachers a better idea of how students in the district live.
“Not every child in ECISD has a mom and a dad that provide for their child’s every need. Fifty- five percent of our kids live in poverty. Many of our kids come from single (parent) homes. Some of our children do not even live a in home. They live in a car, or they live with another family. Our teachers have also learned about some of those situations that are tough for our kids, so I think the respect is mutual. While this has been an ugly situation, it has certainly opened our eyes to how we can better support our kids,” Muri said.
On the remote learning survey, Muri said he anticipates that some students had a healthy experience and a small segment would prefer that learning environment all the time.
“… I’m certain that we’ll receive some of that feedback, but I think the majority of the feedback is going to be kids miss interacting with their peers. They miss interacting with their teachers. They miss some of the routines that are found in school and they miss the social-emotional experiences” like prom, recognition events and graduation, he said.
School next year will no doubt look different, Muri added.
“What we anticipate on the first day of school is that we will not see every child face to face. We anticipate that some kids will remain in a virtual environment the entire year because that’s what they choose. We anticipate that some of our staff members may choose that very same modality of learning. We know that the research says we must spend more face time with our elementary students and we fully intend to do so. We know that the subject of mathematics is going to need more time than any other subject because that is the greatest learning loss that our students will experience. So we’ll have to organize around mathematics next year,” he said.
“We recognize that our students of poverty, our special education students, our English language learners, those kids that did not have a good remote learning experience because they have no broadband, those kids are going to need more of our attention next year than other students. Our goal is to organize around those kids and content areas and grade levels, if you will, that need us the most,” Muri said.
Assistant Superintendent of Student and School Support Alicia Syverson said she is organizing a Student and Family Support Committee. Currently, the committee has a cross section of district personnel, but she wants to add parents at the elementary, middle and high school levels. When it’s appropriate, she hopes to invite students to take part.
“I’m hopeful that committee will be able to use that some of that information to drive the start of school coming up. The responses will be very important to the team …,” Syverson said.
There also is an instructional planning piece.
On broadband, Muri said ECISD received a donation to allow students and families that don’t have access to broadband to get it for 14 months, through June 30, 2021.
“Our families without broadband have the ability to do that through our local cable providers. The challenge is that not every family lives in a home that has access to our cable providers. There are places in our community that cable does not exist and those families, in order to get television access, they use an antenna or satellite television,” Muri said.
The aim is to find a permanent broadband solution for every child in ECISD.
“We’ll be coming out with a report this summer that we’ll call it a landscape report. We have a group of folks that have done a good analysis of each of our families and the level of access that we have within our system and then working with our city and county in identifying real solutions that we can put in place as a community, not only for the students of ECISD but really for families in our county that do not have access to broadband. …,” Muri said.
Results of that report will be issued this summer.
“Then that report will be a driver,” Muri said. “It will kind of guide us forward as we do this body of work.”
Muri also was appointed as part of Gov. Greg Abbott’s Operation Connectivity Task Force. The task force is focused on broadband access for students across Texas, he said.
Co-chairs are Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Houston, Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, and Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath.
The district also has hired consultant David Irwin, formerly of Gartner, a firm that provides consulting for technology firms around the world, Muri said.
On a separate item, Muri said he is ramping up communications with the public again through media calls on Wednesday and Facebook live sessions. The next Facebook Live discussion is set for 7 p.m. Thursday.
“We just want to make sure that we are providing to our community as much information as we possibly can because we fully anticipate the 2020-21 school year (will) look very different from anything that our families ever experienced and we want to keep our families abreast of what’s happening and also do some listening …,” Muri said.