• September 20, 2020

School opening still up in air - Odessa American: ECISD

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School opening still up in air

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Posted: Tuesday, July 14, 2020 12:44 pm

With cases of COVID-19 rising in Odessa, plans to open Ector County ISD schools in the fall are changing with the times.

In the last two weeks, Superintendent Scott Muri said, things have started looking much worse than they were when initial plans were taking shape.

“… The likelihood of opening with kids and opening with as many kids as we want in our buildings seems to be fading,” Muri said in a phone interview Monday. “Our community has heard me say and I will continue to say that we to some degree control our own destiny. The healthier we are as a community, the more likely it is that we can serve kids in our buildings and we have to make sure that we’re doing everything we can as a community — washing hands and wearing masks and social distancing. We’ve got to take care of ourselves and take care of the people around us,” Muri said. “And one reason to do that is so that our kids can go back to school.”

Although President Trump and U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos have declared that schools need to open in the fall or they risk not receiving federal funding, Muri said ECISD has to do what’s right for students.

“If our kids and staff members are not safe, they cannot come back in our buildings. We have to do what’s right for our own community and the children that we serve and Odessa and Ector County,” Muri said. “I think it’s important to note, too, that the messaging we hear from the federal government is back to school, but what that really means is to educate kids and that’s exactly what we want to do. I don’t disagree with any of that. We will begin educating kids on Aug. 12.”

Generally, school districts don’t get a lot of their funding from the federal government. In Texas, it’s mainly property taxes and state funding based on attendance.

Muri said school in the fall may look very different from the way it’s looked in the past because of the local health situation.

“But we will educate kids. That is something that I can assure you we will do. Our staff members want to do that; our teachers; our principals; our central office folks; our parents want their kids to be educated, so that’s going to happen. It’s the how that is the big question mark right now,” Muri said.

Muri had said the best teachers and administrators would go to the schools in the district that are most in need. Recently a couple of the best teachers and principals switched roles and campuses.

“When a principal is making his or her master schedule and you’re determining whose going to teach which course, that is when those decisions are made. The principal is responsible for placing teachers in the specific courses that they teach, and as the principal is making those placements, you want to be strategic and thoughtful in who you assign to teach which particular courses and so that is where those decisions are made at the school level, matching the very best teachers with the most fragile children. That’s what we want to do in general in schools across the board. No matter what the school is, you want to take the talent of the teacher and match them with where their talent is going to be best utilized. That’s the art of master scheduling,” Muri said.

“It is not an easy process for our principals. It is an art form to create a master schedule for an elementary, middle or high school that effectively meets the needs of children because you’re balancing the needs of kids with the talents of teachers,” he added.

From a promotion perspective, he said, there are always opportunities in school districts for teachers to take on different roles, whether that’s a teacher/coach or administrator.

“Many times … the individuals that get those roles have proven themselves to be effective in the classroom,” Muri said.

Former Odessa Collegiate Academy Advancement Via Individual Determination Coordinator Elizabeth Gray and Elementary Math Coordinator Beatris Mata will become teacher coaches.

“They will get to spread their work to many teachers and help many teachers go from good to great, if you will,” Muri said.

The state has announced that students will take the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, or STAAR, this coming school year. But there has been pushback.

“A number of school districts in Texas have already announced that they will start the first three weeks of school completely virtual and that is because they have such a large presence of COVID-19 in their communities that they simply can’t safely bring back staff members or students,” Muri said.

“That decision in itself affects the validity and reliability of a STAAR assessment or an end-of-course exam. I think Texas is going to have a very difficult time validating the reliability of the STAAR test this year simply because of COVID-19 and its impact upon the way that we’re doing school, so I will not be surprised if TEA makes a different type of decision,” he said.

Right now the decision is that all students in Texas will take the STAAR.

Rep. Brooks Landgraf, R-Odessa, has sent a letter to Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath saying STAAR should not be administered in the coming year.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if that becomes an option rather than a requirement,” Muri said.

Attitudes have changed regarding parents who want online learning vs. in person as cases of COVID-19 continue to increase.

“As I talk to my colleagues across the state of Texas, the numbers are running, or they were two weeks ago, but they’re now changing but they were 70 percent of parents were wanting to face to face and 30 percent were wanting virtual. In our district, that was 65-35. … Now that’s changing. When I talked to my colleagues in Houston, that number is now upside down. More parents are requesting virtual rather than face to face. We’re starting to hear more of that in our own community, so there are a lot of similarities. Sometimes we think we’re unique, but no. … We’re probably more similar than we are different,” Muri said.

The digital divide where some students have internet access while a lot of students do not will not be solved by the time school starts in August, but Muri said ECISD will be further down the road.

“We’ve already made a decision to put a device in the hands of every child that needs one. We recognize that many of our kids don’t have the tools, they don’t have the computer or the laptop or whatever it is they need so we’ll providing those for any of the children that do not have them,” Muri said.

But it’s not getting the tools to the students that’s the issue. It’s lack of broadband infrastructure.

“… That is not going to be fixed in a month or two. That’s a much longer process, but we’re busy working on that. We commissioned a study. In fact, I was on a call a few minutes ago before I spoke with you (July 13) to get an update on that body of work. There are a lot of people weighing in on the kind of options that we have available as a community to make sure broadband exists in every family’s home. It’s been exciting to talk to people all over our community and our elected officials, county commissioners, city council members; lots of support for making sure that our kids and families have that level of access, so I’m excited to be able to work with our community to make this happen. But it is more than just a month away. It is a much longer build, if you will,” Muri said.

Odessa, TX

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