Guest column

“Real talk” continues to be a cornerstone in our school district culture.

That means we are committed to honest, straight-forward communication, even when the news is not the best news. So, let’s talk good news -- and then not-so-good news.

The good news is that we are back in school, and student enrollment is strong. Needless to say, we were encouraged and delighted to see our students in person again.

Teaching and learning will always be our focus, under every circumstance. We know with certainty that students learn best in person, and we will do everything we can to safely provide face-to-face instruction.

Our campuses are more than just places of learning. They are communities where our students grow in terms of their character, academically, and socially.

Now, the not-so-good news: I am often asked if this year will be like last year, and the answer is no. Why? The truth is that this year we have fewer choices. For example, Gov. Abbott has banned mask mandates.

GISD is following the governor’s order. Yes, there are large districts with much larger budgets challenging the governor’s ban, and lawsuits and injunctions are being filed daily. But in GISD, as in most districts across Texas, we will respect the order and will continue to follow it as long as it is in place.

Last year, parents could choose virtual and hybrid instruction because they were educational options offered by the Texas Education Agency. This year, they are not, and GISD does not have the financial means to pay for virtual and hybrid options and the staffing that would be required to make them effective and sustainable modes of learning for all students.

However, under a newly passed bill (Senate Bill 15), the state is now offering limited funding for virtual learning. This is new, and districts all over Texas are scrambling to adjust because when the school year started, the state was not funding virtual learning at all. More information about Senate Bill 15 can be found here: https://bit.ly/397ZBFy.

To add another layer of complication, there are multiple criteria to meet, both by individual students and their campuses. Also, under SB15, the district must teach at least 90 percent of students in person and a maximum of 10 percent virtually. So GISD cannot offer virtual or hybrid options to all families.

GISD is experiencing the same staffing and supply chain shortages as all businesses. That reality has resulted in teacher and substitute teacher shortages, which, coupled with COVID, has made it a challenge to cover our in-person classrooms.

The supply chain shortages have affected everything from cafeteria menus to bus engine parts. Things that used to run like clockwork are hitting speedbumps.

Let’s be real with each other. The past 18 months have taken a toll on all of us. When I talk with our teachers, they tell me they’re grateful to be back on campus – and yet, they’re exhausted.

The same for parents. They’re stretched thin, and teachers have become more than the people helping their children learn. More than ever, they have become partners in supporting the emotional well-being of the children in their classrooms.

We realize that there are passionate opinions on both ends of the spectrum when it comes to masking and other COVID-related issues. We must make the day-to-day decisions that will allow us to continue instruction in the middle of a pandemic.

We are introducing a COVID status guide (www.greenvilleisd.com/Page/3042) that establishes levels and corresponding protocols, ranging from green (current operations) to red (consider possibilities of classroom or campus closure).

While the numbers vary day to day, the reported test-confirmed positive COVID cases are averaging 2% in our student population (based on the weekly report ending 9/7/21). That 2% represents 101 students out of 5,244 total enrollment in GISD.

We will continue to monitor and report our COVID numbers and to make decisions based on the shifting facts and data. We will continue to have real talk with you, our community, because it’s the only way to work through this challenging journey.

On behalf of our GISD Team, I want to express our appreciation for our community’s determination to pull together, even when it’s not easy. Because our students are worth it.

Boothe is the lone finalist for GISD Superintendent

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