AUSTIN (KXAN) — Continuing its series of live stream Q&As with Texas leaders about the coronavirus response in the state, the Texas Tribune is focusing on education Thursday morning. App users, tap here to watch the stream.
Texas Tribune public education reporter Aliyya Swaby spoke to LaTonya Goffney, the superintendent of Aldine ISD in Harris County. They will discuss the affect school closures have on parents, students and teachers and how schools are addressing these challenges.
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When can students and families expect to return to school?
- The same day that Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order closing all public schools in the state until May 4th, Goffney announced Aldine ISD would remain closed until further notice.
- Goffney said that the decision to close the schools in her district indefinitely provides her team with the flexibility to adapt to changes and provide, “a little bit more certainty in the face of some uncertain times.”
What are some of the short-term impacts that students and families need to be aware of?
- One of the main challenges that Goffney acknowledged would be a factor for a lot of families is the ability to ensure meaningful learning. “Even with my circumstances, I can’t guarantee that meaningful learning is happening [for my daughter,] but what I can guarantee is that she’s safe, she’s eating and that all is well with her.”
- Goffney went on to say that, “While we want meaningful learning, we also recognize [that] some of our students are in challenging situations … and so we want to be able to provide [the] resources and support to meet our students’ needs, socially and emotionally.”
- Addressing current seniors who are graduating next month, Goffney acknowledged ceremonies would look different than what’s typical but added, “We’re going to celebrate our seniors and our seniors are going to graduate.”
- Still Goffney said the district would have to address numerous setbacks in the coming academic year. “I hate to put it out there but… we’re going to have to look at a different school calendar,” she went on to say, noting that despite the district’s best efforts that the underlying working and learning conditions associated with the outbreak are going to inevitably set the district back in a number of ways.Catch up on education news with our weekly newsletter
What accommodations are being provided to students with structural barriers to learning and/or learning disabilities?
- One of the major educational barriers that students and parents across the state are dealing with is a lack of access to online resources. And, according to Goffney, “[this challenge has] pretty much been the one thing that we’ve been focusing on the entire time,” as it can magnify existing equity issues.
- In addition to developing online and print resources for students, Aldine ISD launched the Aldine Cares initiative which tasked every teacher with contacting every student in Aldine ISD to get the most accurate data possible on students’ access to the internet at home.
- The 40% of students who do not have adequate access, Goffney said, will be eligible to receive Chromebooks and other provisions provided by the district.
- Goffney also went on to say that she empathizes with families who have to contend with the combined challenges of social distancing and learning differences. “As the mother of a son who had some special challenges, I recognize that [this situation] is particularly tough,” she said.
- Goffney noted that the district, its special education faculty and staff are working with counterparts throughout the region to develop best practices for meeting the individual needs of students. “We are working to meet the needs of every single student,” she said.The Texas Tribune thanks its sponsors. Become one.
What is being done for students dealing with food insecurity?
- Along with disproportionate access to online resources, providing for families experiencing food insecurity is another issue that school districts across the state have had to address. Working with child nutrition specialists, Goffney said she and her team have put multiple measures in place, including a grab-and-go meal program, to balance both the needs of families and the health concerns of the staff.
- Goffney and her team have been utilizing a broad network of social media platforms to promote the food assistance program to families in need. And according to Goffney, the district is currently providing nearly 100,000 meals on average — which is double what the average was the week before.
What has been the impact on school faculty and staff?
- One of the unexpected findings of the Aldine Cares initiative, Goffney said, was that many teachers did not have equal access to the resources they needed to work remotely. As a result, over 600 teachers have received devices in order for them to continue working remotely. And teachers across Aldine ISD have received extensive training to help prepare them for remote work.
- In response to questions about what is being done for to address the financial security concerns of hourly faculty and staff —another issue that has arisen across the state as a result of this outbreak — Goffney noted that the passage of recent resolutions will ensure that, “every single member of our staff is continuing to get paid,” and that premium pay will be available for staff members who have to physically go in to work.
What are the potential long-term impacts to schools?
- Responding to a reader question about incorporating lessons learned now into how the district operates long term, Goffney said that the new data and initiatives that have arisen in response to the current situation will “really inform and change the way we do things in the future.”
- “Overnight, we have had to change how we educate kids,” in ways that might have taken years to develop in other circumstances, Goffney said. And she said that she finds it unlikely that “business as usual” will resume once the outbreak is over.
- Goffney noted that this situation has “created a sense of urgency to provide students with additional resources where learning can take place,” and that she looks forward to reimagining how her district educates its students.
Goffney has been superintendent of Aldine ISD since 2018 and has overseen many new initiatives in the district, including pilot pre-kindergarten, dual-language immersion and college-readiness programs. Previously, she served as superintendent of Coldspring-Oakhurst Consolidated ISD and Lufkin ISD. The Texas Association of School Boards named Goffney its Superintendent of the Year in 2017.
Aldine ISD serves parts of Houston and unincorporated Harris County and spans across urban centers, suburban hubs and rural areas. The district serves nearly 67,000 students, and more than 87% of the student body qualifies for free or reduced-price lunch or other public assistance. On March 16, the district announced it would suspend operations through April 10, ahead of an executive order issued by Gov. Greg Abbott closing schools across the state.
The interview was streamed on the Tribune’s website, Facebook page and Twitter, as well as by our media partners at KPRC and KXAN to a live audience of more than 8,000 viewers.