With the coronavirus forcing almost everyone into social-distancing mode to flatten the curve, the local school districts have stepped it up to ensure all students have the ability to learn online while at home.
Barbers Hill ISD
Barbers Hill ISD held an emergency meeting Thursday morning to approve the purchase of laptops for instructors and more Chromebooks for students.
Director of Technology Kristen Davis said 1,300 Chromebooks had been already handed out to Barbers Hill ISD students. The district has an enrollment of 5,379, according to its website.
To place more laptops and Chromebooks into the hands of both instructors and students, the Barbers Hill voted to approve the purchase of 500 laptops for $498,100 and 1,300 more Chromebooks for $492,844, making the total cost almost a million dollars.
Dr. Greg Poole, the district’s superintendent, said his district is ahead of the curve when it comes to establishing an online-learning format for students.
“Some districts are still implementing the passing out of materials,” Poole said. “I think some neighboring districts still have not passed out materials for (online-learning). But, we are not in a sink or swim mentality. We are able to move forward and look at the bigger picture.”
With the purchase of the laptops and Chromebooks, the district might be eligible for reimbursements from FEMA.
“But, they are meticulous for detail,” he said.
Poole said during a phone conference with other school district superintendents, he discovered Texas Education Agency Commissioner Mike Morath allegedly still has FEMA funds from Hurricane Harvey he could still hand out.
“He knows people that have needs, but they haven’t taken care of their paperwork, and he still has the money,” Poole said.
Poole emphasized regardless of how the purchase is reimbursed, the important thing is to continue to educate students during the COVID-19 crisis.
“This is about the quality of education for our kids,” Poole said. “The primary purpose of this meeting is not about getting a reimbursement. It is about being wise financially. This is about our kids. We want to take care of our kids in a way that also takes care of our taxpayers.”
Davis said the laptops are largely for the teachers, but the ones they have now are mostly insufficient and not up to date.
“Mainly, it is the cameras that are not working anymore,” Davis said.
Poole said this means instead of an actual instruction occurring, the session between the student and teacher becomes a conference call.
Goose Creek CISD
At Goose Creek CISD, a total of 1,784 devices have been checked out in the last two days, according to Susan Passmore, district spokeswoman.
There were long lines at Alamo Elementary Wednesday with parents and guardians receiving iPads the district had to check out to students. The district had an enrollment of 23,765 for the 2018-2019 school year.
Passmore said the feedback from parents and students has been positive.
“But we know this is challenging for even seasoned teachers,” Passmore said. “So many teachers are not only serving as an online instructor for their students, but also as a teacher for their own children. Our technology, as well as our curriculum and instruction departments, have provided training for staff and offer support.”
Passmore said teachers have office hours for the students and their families, and tech support is available.
“The technology devices have been distributed, and packets of assignments are being assembled for students who have not been able to access online instruction,” she said.
Overall, Passmore said the online-learning methods are working well at Goose Creek.
“It’s amazing to see how our Goose Creek CISD staff has remained positive and worked together to ensure the health and safety of our students as well as the continuation of learning while they are not in school,” Passmore said. “It’s evident from the photos and videos posted online, the car parades, and numerous other activities that our students and staff miss each other and are ready to return to school.”
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo’s order to stay-at-home affects Goose Creek CISD, Passmore said. She added the district’s board took action to align with other districts in Region 4 and will remain closed until April 10.
At this time, Passmore said there had been no discussion about extending the school closure date.