How’s School Going?


Tanya Larkin

Almost without exception, I have heard these three words the most over the past 6 weeks.  “How’s School Going?”  In years past, this question was often asked, but was generally an automatic inquiry from interested parents, community members, and even colleagues from other districts.  This year, a school year like no other, however, has brought new meaning to both the person asking the question, and to me, the person answering the question.
So, How’s School Going?  I am so glad you asked….
Back in School…What a Blessing!
At the time I was drafting these comments, our teachers had been back to work for a total of 41 days and our students had been back at school for a total of 32 days.  This may not seem like much, but the fact that we have been able to keep our doors open, our classrooms learning and moving, and our buildings operating is nothing short of amazing.  Let me explain with some facts about how covid-19 protocols, procedures, and mandates from TEA and the CDC have affected and continue to influence the delicate balance of keeping school going.  Did you know that more than a dozen schools in the Panhandle have had to quarantine entire grade levels and even close down buildings since school started?  Many have had to postpone and even cancel football and volleyball games.  Across the state, there are still hundreds of districts that have not yet returned to face-to-face instruction.  With the recent hurricanes, many districts are dealing with multiple barriers in addition to covid-19.  During the most recent call with the Commissioner of Education, Mike Morath, Superintendents across the state were told that of the 5.4 million students in public schools in Texas; only a little over 1.5 million were actually attending school on campuses.  This is alarming!
For most of us in the Panhandle, many things are back to some sort of normal.  Our cases are being reported regularly and occasionally, you will see people wearing masks in public places.  Of course, we wear them according to our protocols in the schools and at school functions.  Now, the fact that people may or may not agree with whether masks work is not something we as school officials have the luxury of debating.  Wearing them provides us compliance with our protocols and therefore allows us to continue operating.  It’s that simple.  We are willing to do whatever it takes to keep our schools open and provide opportunities for our kids to come to school, socialize with other children, play sports, and compete in the events they love!  We are so blessed!
By the Numbers….
To the untrained eye, or to those just unaware of the covid-19 protocols and the CDC quarantining regulations, it might look like everything is just fine and school is back to –almost normal.  There are many things that are –just fine---but it is important for our community to have a deeper understanding of what we are dealing with on a day-to-day basis.  At the time of this article, we have had 87 staff members affected by quarantining since the beginning of August.  However, we have only had 13 of those staff with a clinical positive test for covid-19.  As for students, we have had 169 students quarantined with only 8 of those students receiving a clinical positive test for covid-19.  How does that make sense?—you may ask.  MANY of the students and staff that were quarantined were a result of exposures to people OUTSIDE of the school such as parents, grandparents, relatives, co-workers, etc.   This data tells us many things:  1) Our safeguards and protocols are working to keep the exposure and infection down in our classrooms and school buildings.  2) The complexity of tracing exposure risks and how interconnected we all are as a community complicates our efforts to minimize sickness.  However, we believe that we need to continue working to minimize exposure and infection and continue to do our very best to keep the doors open, the competitions happening, and students learning and growing!  
One interesting side effect of covid-19 is how the fear of the unknown or maybe the lack of knowledge about how safe and clean our schools are---has affected our substitute fill-rate.  During the first six weeks of school last year, over 90% of or substitute vacancies were filled daily.  Our substitute fill rate this year has been running between 65%-75% during this first six weeks.  Why is this important?    
When we have staff out for sick days, quarantine days, professional training, school business, or just personal days, we MUST have quality substitutes in our classrooms.  If we do not get enough substitutes, we are forced to pull staff from doing their jobs and in the worst cases—we may be forced to close grade levels or campuses.  We can not have children unsupervised in our classrooms.  Luckily, we have not reached the point where we have to close grade levels or campuses.  But, we have not yet reached the normal cold and flu season.  I am sharing this information with you so you will be informed, but also so you can help us out.  If you or someone you know is willing to serve as a substitute for us, please let us know.  We have on-demand training sessions and you can choose what grade levels and on which campuses to work.  Thanks in advance for helping us through this crazy time.  It indeed takes a village!
Celebrations…
Please know that despite the inconveniences of the protocols, masks, and endless cleaning, the staff of the Pampa ISD are so very grateful that we are able to return to work and have the opportunity to teach in our classrooms, play on our fields and courts, perform on our stages, and share exciting learning experiences with our students every day!  Back in August, we were preparing for the worst and hoping for the best.  To be honest, we were not sure what to expect.  We have now been “doing school” for over 6 weeks and things are going pretty well.  Yes, we have all had an incredible amount of change come at us with teaching both online and face-to-face at the same time, with aggressive cleaning and socializing protocols, and of course with the reality that quarantines have and will most likely continue to happen every day…at least for a while.    We can not waste our energy on the politics and the pundits.  We use every ounce of our energy for our students!  For that, I am so very thankful!  Please join me in celebrating the herculean efforts of our teachers and staff.  
We have just completed our beginning of year learning and progress assessments.  Our biggest concern was that for most of our students, they had not engaged in new challenges and learning for almost 5 months when they returned to us in August.  We used the first few weeks of school to teach our safety protocols, ensure that our students could access their content through the Learning Management System, and reinforced background knowledge and skills that may have regressed during the spring shut-down and the summer.  Our preliminary data, although not what we had hoped, is not as bad as we feared.  This is a celebration!  Our students are working hard everyday and we are dedicated to their learning and success.  
So…that is how it is going!  Despite the quarantines, the learning regressions, the inconvenient protocols, and the never-ending need to be flexible and pivot with a moment’s notice---we are doing pretty well!  We are teaching and students are learning---We are together with our students in our classrooms---We are playing sports---We are sharing experiences---and Students are happy, healthy, and growing!  No matter the context, if we can continue to do these things----then we are blessed!
Next week, I will share in more detail about our virtual and face-to-face learning management system and how we are addressing at-home students, academic interventions, attendance, and truancy.  We are thankful to live and work in our Pampa community.  We thank YOU for your continued support and prayers as we continue to do our very best each and every day!  #TogetherWeCan serve our students and families well!  As always, if you have questions, concerns, ideas, or even celebrations, please reach out to us at pampaisdinfo@pampaisd.net

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