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Overview of Jan. 6 Staff Town Hall - Jan. 7, 2021
Dear SAISD Staff:

As we move forward together into a new calendar year, I want to thank each of you for your roles in implementing one of the most conservative and safest school plans in our region. I cannot thank enough the many groups who have helped us build and update our plan through invaluable input, including our Student, Teacher and Principal advisory groups. 

Our plan on how we operate during a pandemic has been recognized by the state and nation, but it is you who puts it into action every day. I appreciate your diligence in implementing the plan at scale across the District – in every facility and in every role.  

Locally, we are the school district most aligned with Metro Health’s guidance. We follow their direction as much as is allowed within Texas Education Agency guidelines. As a result, we’ve been the most conservative with only 30% student occupancy, and we have teachers and parents working together to ensure the health and safety of everyone. 

Since August when we rolled out our instructional continuity plan and safety matrix, we have learned much more about COVID-19 and how to operate schools during a pandemic. Therefore, yesterday during virtual town hall meetings with staff and families, we introduced a new safety matrix for our spring semester.  

One of our most important learnings, and research has validated this, is that schools are a safe place for students to be. We are seeing low positivity rates in school environments because health precautions such as the wearing of face masks and social distancing are in effect and monitored vigilantly. And, in our District, we are even safer because of our access to COVID testing.

Testing began in November and December, and now every single school across SAISD and across grade levels has access to testing as a result of our partnerships with local and state entities. In addition to receiving rapid antigen tests from TEA, we also were proactive in pursuing a partnership with Community Labs to offer staff and students the ‘gold standard’ in testing through molecular, or PCR (polymerase chain reaction), tests. 

We are continuing this commitment to the PCR test through Community Labs for the rest of the school year. In fact, we are ramping up – providing tests for each employee and student who wants this and also, through another partner, launching a mobile testing site at Alamo Stadium for SAISD and the broader community.

As safe as we have been in our schools, we also must acknowledge the current health status in our community whose positivity rate is 23% compared to our District’s 1%. 

As a result, you’ll notice that the modified safety matrix has us operating at Level 1, which is our maximum safety level with limited in-person instruction. Students currently learning in person may continue to do so, unless the state determines that schools must close. And for students learning at home, they will have this option for the rest of the school year. 

Additionally, in compliance with TEA guidelines, any family whose child is on a waitlist for in-person instruction will hear from their campus leader either this week or next to discuss their future phase-in options. We will ensure parents receive notice two weeks in advance of these phase-in opportunities.

In light of Bexar County’s health statistics, though, we are asking parents to hold off on requesting a major phase-in of students until the community’s positivity rate falls into single digits. We feel this is the safest way to move forward.

During the town hall, I shared the District’s guiding commitments as we address the pandemic’s effects on education. Since last spring, we have been prioritizing the health and safety of our staff and students, along with high-quality instruction for our children. We also are focused on educational equity through the distribution of resources and in providing accurate and timely communications to our families and employees. 

Our response has been strategic, using the most up-to-date information at our disposal, in how we educate students during this time with COVID. You have experienced one of these strategies through our controlled phase-in of students, which has been our approach since the beginning of this school year. The gradual approach has proven effective, while also empowering teachers and parents to prioritize the students with the greatest need for in-person instruction. 

Another strategy was the launch of COVID testing, which is now in 100% of our schools. And, currently, we also are advocating that our education front line workers – from educators to school nurses, and from custodians to cafeteria workers and bus drivers – are prioritized in the initial distributions of the available vaccines. 

During the town hall, we also covered the upcoming STAAR assessments. Just before winter break, the Texas Education Agency announced it would administer the assessments this year, but not assign letter grades to districts or schools. 

The governor also waived grade promotion requirements so that students can still advance to middle and high school regardless of their STAAR scores. However, graduation requirements will not be waived this year as they were last spring.

Given the obstacles that the pandemic has raised, we are grateful that the state acknowledges the disruption schools and districts are experiencing and have taken this into account in their decisions. 

These allowances, while appreciated, will not lower our high expectations for our students to engage in their learning. We will use the data from the STAAR assessments to ensure children are where they need to be academically, and if not, to use this progress monitoring to determine the next steps to get them there. We, like all districts, are here to support our students and to ensure their future success.  

Again, I appreciate each and every one of you for your efforts in helping us address the obstacles that come with operating schools during a pandemic. Because of your dedication and support, we are holding our own despite the challenges. I am very proud of you and the distinction you are bringing to SAISD.


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