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Staying the course - Dec. 2, 2020
Dear SAISD Staff:

I hope each of you had a restful Thanksgiving break and enjoyed time with your closest family members. I realize the holidays may look differently this year because of the pandemic, but staying in touch with those we love is so important to our well-being. My wish is that you still were able to “gather” with your loved ones – by telephone, Zoom or safely in person – over this past week, and that this sense of togetherness, in whatever form that takes, continues throughout this holiday season. 

A word that is often associated with the holiday season is “joy,” and when we returned to work on Monday, we received joyful news to celebrate. 

Out of 550 San Antonio area schools, seven of our campuses received eight top placements in the 2020 Pandemic Edition School Rankings, produced by the nonprofit Children At Risk. The rankings indicate the organization’s picks for best local schools, based on student achievement, campus performance, growth, and college readiness. This year’s ranking is labeled the “pandemic edition” because the emergence of COVID-19 changed the way Children At Risk calculated its data – resorting to a three-year analysis with newly added indicators. Five of our schools ranked in two of the new indicators, including Pace Setter Schools and Racial Equity. 

Change is constant because of this ever-evolving pandemic, affecting everything from school rankings to guidance we receive from the state. 

Just before Thanksgiving break, the Texas Education Agency issued new guidance giving school districts some flexibility to close campuses for short periods of time when those campuses are hampered with an outbreak. We appreciate this flexibility. Thankfully, due in large part to the increased safety measures, such as expanded COVID-19 testing, we have not seen outbreaks in our schools despite local positivity rates increasing. I know seeing the rate increase is worrisome, but our schools continue to be safe places because of our well-managed environments. I spoke on this topic earlier this week with a local news station.

At this time, we are continuing to welcome additional students back to in-person instruction. Our original waiver from TEA ended last week, and as of Monday, Nov. 30, we have been required to honor the request of any parent who wishes for their child to return to campus for face-to-face learning.

Earlier this school year, we took advantage of the TEA waiver that allowed school systems to continue to restrict access to on-campus instruction beyond the first four weeks of school. During this extended period, we were required to hold some on-campus instruction each day. We limited this to 25% of student enrollment as long as we could because we felt this was the best balance for the health and safety of our staff and students. This restraint gave us the most conservative student occupancy rate among area school districts.   

We are grateful that we had the cushion of the TEA waiver as we gradually and safely adapted to this new world in which we live. In the process, we learned that our school environments with our safety protocols in place – including masking, handwashing, social distancing, increased building sanitation, plexiglass barriers, and most recently, COVID-19 testing – have been working to a great degree. 

The testing initiative, especially, provides us valuable, real-time health information. We now have expanded testing across the District through three pilot programs to maintain as safe an environment as possible. This testing and all of our safety protocols will be top of mind as we update our safety matrix to address our second-semester reopening plan.

Although no place – not even our homes – is 100% safe from the virus, we now know we are as prepared as possible to begin working with parents to transition their children back into our classrooms.

Even before the TEA waiver ended, we knew we had to begin introducing measures that would stem a backward slide in academic achievement. As we analyzed student performance data, we saw a concerning dip in student engagement and academic progress. 

We have always known that the best place for our students is in a classroom environment, receiving in-person instruction with our talented and dedicated teachers. We realized that with the effectiveness of our safety protocols, it was time for increased interventions. With this in mind, our schools led the way last month in developing campus-based plans customized to their students’ academic and social-emotional needs. 

This week marks the beginning of the execution of those plans, and I commend you for the great work I know you will do in the coming weeks.

The three weeks between now and winter break are especially critical. Our goal is to ensure our students are learning the material well enough to earn passing grades this semester. Every year we promise families that we will do everything to prepare their children for college and career. And we are committed to delivering on that promise. 

We already have proved our mettle over the past five years as our state accountability rating rose four letter grades to the level of a B. Together, we will continue to move forward with the unrelenting determination to prepare our students for success. 


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