‘I need you to be kind, and I need you to be resilient’: Eanes ISD superintendent discusses learning options for next school year

Eanes ISD Superintendent Tom Leonard led a virtual community meeting June 18. (Courtesy Eanes ISD)
Eanes ISD Superintendent Tom Leonard led a virtual community meeting June 18. (Courtesy Eanes ISD)

Eanes ISD Superintendent Tom Leonard led a virtual community meeting June 18. (Courtesy Eanes ISD)

More than 900 parents sent in questions concerning the 2020-21 school year during an Eanes ISD virtual meeting led by Superintendent Tom Leonard. From online learning to state funding, several factors are still unknown, but district officials are continuously working to provide updated information as early as this week.

During the afternoon of June 23, all staff engaged in an online meeting run by Deputy Superintendent Jeff Arnett.

A task force of 100 stakeholders is evaluating the remote and in-person curriculum schedule. According to the district, community involvement will continue to be prioritized beyond the June 18 meeting.

“We are one of the few districts out there that are giving you this much information,” Leonard said. “By next week we will be light years ahead of where the other districts in Central Texas are in terms of the information we are providing.”

That information will be showcased on a new district website, which will act as a resource for the community amid the pandemic. Leonard said that website is expected to launch shortly.

While many questions still loom, EISD has been clear that administrators will stick with the academic calendar previously approved by trustees in December. Per that calendar, the 2020-21 school year will begin Aug. 19 and end with a half day May 26, 2021.

Officials have also presented information leaning toward providing families and staff with a choice on whether to return to campus. To determine the feasibility of that plan, a community survey was recently distributed.

As more information is released, families will have the option to engage in a second survey from June 29 through July 8. At that point, Leonard said individuals need to make their final decisions.

“I need to know where people are. I can’t respect your choices without knowing your choices,” Leonard said.

Nevertheless, Leonard has previously stated that a robust learning plan is critical for the upcoming year and it is likely that plan will look the same for each campus.

He said the goal is to develop a model that would allow students to move from in-person classes to remote at any given point.

This model would aid EISD in the event that a student or staff member tests positive for COVID-19. Leonard said guidance from the state requires any individual who tests positive for coronavirus and anyone they came into contact with to self-isolate for two weeks.

However, this remote learning model will not look the same as it did in the 2019-20 school year. Chief Learning Officer Susan Fambrough said EISD is working with teachers to provide families with more help and resources. Teachers could potentially record their lesson plans to distribute to students, Fambrough said.

It is possible that certain students will be prioritized when determining who will engage in in-person learning, according to Molly May, the district's executive director of special education. Information on the priority criteria will be released shortly.

“We understand that some of our students with special needs really were not able to access remote learning in a very successful way,” May said.

Despite the plethora of difficulties associated with the 2020-21 school year, Leonard assured the community that EISD is in a good place to tackle the challenges.

Leonard also emphasized kindness and patience as the district embarks into a very different school year.

“I need you to care for my staff. I need you to care for each other," Leonard said. “This is not an easy time. I need you to be kind, and I need you to be resilient.”
By Amy Rae Dadamo
Amy Rae Dadamo is the reporter for Lake Travis-Westlake, where her work focuses on city government and education. Originally from New Jersey, Amy Rae relocated to Austin after graduating from Ramapo College of New Jersey in May 2019.


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