Virus affects LISD’s State of the District

By LYNETTE HAALND, Four Points News

Leander ISD hosted its annual State of the District virtually on Wednesday and shared some LISD highlights of the year, but the main focus during the Q&A portion of the event pertained to the start of school next year.

Like everything else, COVID-19 has greatly affected the district since mid March but LISD has learned to work with the new challenges, said Bruce Gearing, LISD superintendent of schools.

Gearing shared updates on LISD successes, goals, demographics, staff, growth, community engagement, special education, and equity and diversity.

The district has 41,000+ students and 5,000+ employees spread over 200 square miles at 44 schools. In July, the district will graduate close to 2,890 students.

School starting in August

But the main focus of the questions during the Q&A portion of the State of the District on June 10 centered on how school will be handled for the 2020/2021 school year, and if students will be returning to the classroom in August and/or if virtual learning will continue.

“I wish I knew exactly what it will look like but it will start in August,” said John Graham, assistant superintendent LISD. 

“It may look differently but the expectation of learning will not change, it will be at the highest level,” Graham said. “Come August, we want learning at the level they left off with in March.”

He shared that a tremendous amount of work is going into the planning of the next school year and how it will be handled. There still are many unknowns but the district is planning to be flexible and will continue to offer learning in a safe and healthy environment.

“It’ll look different in the buildings and on the buses but we’re working diligently with all state goals and CDC plans,” Graham said.

Ideas of setting up buildings in a 6-foot, social distancing manner and/or requiring a certain amount of personal protective equipment are being considered. He shared that one of LISD’s biggest responsibilities is the health and safety of the district.

“We want to make sure students and staff have resources to a clean environment and … have supplies ready to go,” Graham said.

Virtual empowered learning

LISD will continue to have virtual offerings for families in the new school year. It collected 11,000 responses in Thoughtexchange about virtual empowered learning.

“Teachers and people did amazing work to create a remote learning environment,” said Matt Bentz, LISD’s chief academic officer. 

Bentz noted that looking ahead, the district will “still have students and families wrestling with challenges with illnesses or vulnerability in their family, or the fear of lots of human beings mixing in one place.” 

“As we move into fall, it needs to be very robust,” Bentz said. “People want several components to be enriched and added to virtual learning.”

Some of the ways virtual empowered learning will be different than last spring include: connecting with peers and teachers, synchronous learning through Google Meet or Zoom, meeting in small groups, and time with teachers in individual conference sessions.

Digital tools

Bentz said that “we know we need consistent digital platforms.” To that end, LISD will ensure teachers are fully trained in Google Classroom and that the approach will be much more streamlined so parents won’t get as many emails.

Graham echoed those thoughts. 

“Our plan is to have a very robust professional development plan when teachers return to work so teachers are fully prepared for learning in the fall semester,” Graham said.

Working with students

The district also plans to allow students to have a choice on learning. 

“Some may have fear or anxiety, we’re developing a system meeting individual student’s needs,” Graham said. “We will try our best to meet individual needs of students and set up an environment to help each student safely learn.” 

Superintendent Gearing added, “we need the support of every family, if we can understand the needs then we can help you. Talk to your principals, teachers and we’ll do everything we can to help.”

Decision making

A question was asked how decisions are being made during this coronavirus pandemic. LISD officials answered that there are two committees formed that work on decisions. 

The district uses feedback from the community through Thoughtexchange and from principals, who have been tasked to get feedback from their stakeholders

LISD is taking in and considering all information so that it can make its decisions. It also is looking at other districts and other states for ideas to make the best decisions.

Next week, LISD is expected to unveil a more robust plan on what the fall will look like.