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Superintendent's Back-to-School Message

Washburn Message

August 16, 2020

Dear DSISD Parents,

As we approach our first day of school in remote learning on Tuesday, we do so with excitement and enthusiasm. Our teachers and staff have done a fantastic job preparing for the school year and can't wait to reconnect with students.

We have and will remain focused on two priorities: the health and safety of our students, staff, and community; and providing a quality educational experience for our students. Since the pandemic started in the spring, we have listened carefully to input from our staff, students, parents, and community. We recognize that people have varying opinions, but I believe everyone has the health and well-being of our students and staff foremost in their hearts. Our Board members have been committed to listening carefully and weighing all of our options as they provide leadership during these challenging times. We also formed a task force to help study issues that arise related to the pandemic and this school year.

We have determined that the first four weeks of school will be conducted remotely. Each campus has communicated with you its campus schedules and your student's class assignments. Teachers will be providing asynchronous (recorded) and synchronous (live) learning opportunities for our students following their campus/grade level schedules. We also are identifying some students with specific needs (for example, no internet access) who may require additional support during this time. Here are some critical steps we have taken to serve and support members of our DSISD family:

·         Our teachers have been receiving professional development and training to ensure they are prepared to begin virtual instruction.

·         We are supporting our teachers with additional resources that have been developed and identified over the summer.

·         We have supported our families who need technology by issuing devices and hotspots.

·         This week, we will start providing meals for our qualifying students.

Following this initial four-week period, the state has offered school districts the option of a potential four-week remote learning extension with board approval. Our board will discuss this option over the next few weeks. Several critical areas of consideration for this decision will be the status of our Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) including inventory promised by the state, cleaning supplies and equipment, recent health authority guidance and recommendations, and the current pandemic data for central Texas, Travis and Hays County, and DSISD. We want to make sure that we have all safety/health protocols and resources in place when we return to on-campus instruction, and we will share additional details on those protocols with parents at that time.

During the enrollment verification period, parents indicated how they wanted their children to learn following the transitionary remote period. Approximately 60 percent of parents reported their intent to send their children back in person, while approximately 40 percent would like their students to continue learning remotely (there was some variance between grade levels and schools). Parents will be allowed to request that their students change formats at the end of grading periods. We are working closely with our teachers to honor their needs as well.

Our Leadership Team, which consists of campus and district administrators, and instructional leaders, have determined that we will be using a HyFlex (blended) model of instruction for class assignments. In this model, teachers will have both in-person and remote learners. This model will create consistency for our students and teachers, enabling strong relationships to be built and providing continuity of learning, including common expectations for all. This model provides flexibility for our families and students, knowing that during the school year students may get sick with COVID-like symptoms or exposure that would require them to miss up to 10 days. This model also allows for students to keep the same teacher if changing their preferred learning option (on-campus or remote) at the end of a grading period. Additionally, this blended approach provides the ability to reduce the in-person class size and provide greater ability to social distance in classrooms.

In my convocation message to our staff, I shared that I believe that if we focus on building relationships with our students and making sure they are connected, that our students will be successful. I also shared my belief in them and my belief in our parents' willingness to support their students. Together we will embark on the 2020-21 school year embracing new challenges, expanding our capacities, and equipping our students to be critical thinkers, strong problem-solvers, and resilient people. Thank you again for partnering with us on this journey.

Todd Washburn