Where Do We Go From Here?

June 19, 2020  

How our public schools will help us pave a path forward from the COVID-19 crisis

By JoLisa Hoover

Regional Advocacy Director, Central Texas
Raise Your Hand Texas

We have seen it after hurricanes, floods, wildfires, and now, a pandemic. 

In the wake of nearly every major crisis, our educators and public schools play a crucial role in helping us not just get through the immediate emergency, but also help facilitate our collective return to normalcy.

But this crisis is different, in its reach and its breadth of impact. This crisis affects all of us at the same time. It disrupts our typical ability to assemble in-person, to help those in need, and to comfort those who are hurting. And yet, schools once again are rising to the challenge, serving as the nucleus of communities sheltered behind closed doors.

I have seen this amazing effort firsthand here in Central Texas, where I serve as a regional advocacy director for Raise Your Hand Texas.

In the Waco region, Prosper Waco found a way to connect the helpers to those most in need during the pandemic. Knowing that teachers already had strong connections with families, Prosper Waco leveraged those relationships to connect families in need from Waco, China Spring, Connally, and La Vega ISDs to a new Family Resource Pantry to help provide them with essential items. Superintendent Dr. Susan Kincannon said, “Our school staff has been amazing, of course. They are our front lines with their families, and they know each and every one of them. I know they have responded to not only basic needs but also times of loss from families … they’re balancing the classroom work with connecting to resources and responding to their families’ general health and well-being needs.”  

In Austin ISD, school district officials tackled broadband access issues by dispatching wifi buses into neighborhoods. In Lockhart ISD, they built wifi towers to ensure everyone had internet access in the entire town. Meanwhile, in Leander ISD, families were able to tune in live to get answers to questions about at-home learning, see student performances, and access resources.

A new spike in cases has some parents concerned about the fall. While there will be options for parents who want to continue remote learning next school year, Texas Education Commissioner Morath recently announced, “It will be safe for Texas public school students, teachers, and staff to return to school campuses for in-person instruction.” Teachers will now need to prepare to provide both classroom and online learning.  

This means schools will need to reexamine what they have done and can do differently to ensure safe and equitable opportunities for all students. They will also need to continue to think big and be innovative for a reopening of schools.  

District leaders have started discussing new protocols for busses, lunch, and P.E., as well as preparing for a fall semester marked by possible rolling closures in the case of a resurgence of the virus. Many school districts aren’t making one plan for the fall. They are making plans for every possibility that might disrupt the usual back-to-school rhythm we have come to expect.

Already, officials in Austin ISD are planning to offer childcare at several campuses and are making additional investments in blended learning. In Elgin ISD, the district is buying school supplies for all students in the fall. In Hays CISD, the district is making multiple plans for opening in the fall. And in Waco ISD, the district is building capacity in staff through summer book studies in design thinking so they can best handle any situation that arises. These efforts are early, yet essential, steps that will help determine how we all return to school and work in either a post-COVID-19 world or a world still dealing with COVID-19. 

These efforts exemplify why our public schools are bedrock institutions in each of our communities. In the coming months, our school leaders will need our support and understanding as they forge a bold new path in a world that doesn’t look the same as it did before.

“These efforts exemplify why our public schools are bedrock institutions in each of our communities.“

Hays CISD Superintendent Dr. Eric Wright said, “We typically have 5- and 10-year projections that have been 98 or 99 percent accurate, but now it is like we have to use a crystal ball and your crystal ball is brand new and doesn’t come with a warranty. It’s pretty tough, but fear and anxiety lead to decreased performance and so if everyone is worried and anxious and fearful, we’re not going to do our best work. I’m trying to keep everyone calm and approaching it from the social-emotional level, trying to keep them in a good place and letting them know it is all going to work out and is going to be fine.” 

Just as our health professionals have risen to the challenge, our educators are doing the same to ensure we emerge stronger than before. We will continue to have high expectations for our teachers and our students, and also, a much deeper appreciation for the contributions and sacrifices our school leaders make on behalf of our communities and our state.

Throughout this crisis, we have been reminded that our public schools embody so much more than what we often give them credit for. They feed and protect. They nurture and encourage creativity. They allow us to work. They are dependable and resilient. They are important hubs for learning, leading, and collaborating. They provide a forum for art, science, and literature, and also a foundational environment for debate, football, and friends.

Our public school communities have always been the root of Texas’ success. And the Texas public school community is where our recovery is already underway.

“We’d love to hear from you!”

We’re looking for stories from students, teachers, and school leaders about your experiences, challenges, and strategies you think might benefit others. Please share your perspectives and let us know how you’re approaching and responding to the current situation. And know that you are not alone in these struggles. We thank you, we honor you, and we want you to know we are cheering you on.

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Tags: Advocacy Regional Advocacy Directors Rising to the Challenge

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