Being nimble has been a strength for Plano ISD as it has faced challenges associated with online education, district staff said at a virtual town hall April 30, and flexibility will continue to be a priority as the district prepares for a summer and fall of uncertainty.

“You can never unlearn what you learn," Superintendent Sara Bonser said. "All of us who are in education, and I'm sure all of you listening, have had to learn new things very recently. We will transfer all of our new learning into being smarter and better and more effective, whatever the future looks like.”

PISD leadership, including Superintendent Bonser, Chief Operating Officer Theresa Williams and Chief Financial Officer Randy McDowell shared progress updates and potential plans for the district during the town hall, which was held in partnership with the Plano Chamber of Commerce.

Since shifting into PISD’s third phase of its online learning plan, where grading guidelines were determined for students, the district has been focusing on supporting student learning from home, Williams said.

“We want to make sure that the focus is around ensuring that our students [and] that we're providing them with continuity of learning but then also supporting and adjusting to their needs while providing good feedback,” Williams said.

Remote learning may or may not have a place in the district after dealing with the pandemic, Bonser said. While it works well for some, it may not work well for others, she said.

“Remote learning, while we're doing okay, is really not a one-to-one replacement for what happens with teachers and students in the presence of content and great teaching,” Bonser said. “Our job is going to be to make the best of every setting instructionally to meet student needs and deliver the high-quality public education that Plano ISD parents are accustomed to.”

The district does not expect to begin its 2020-21 school year early, Bonser said. This will allow time for students who are facing challenges with online learning to receive additional support, Bonser said.

“If there was ever a time to worry about equity, this is it, because the digital divide is real,” Bonser said. “Closing the digital divide has been a huge priority for us. ...There are some kids that [will] need a ton of extra remediation this summer to catch up and close gaps.”

Nearly all students with social, emotional, food and safety needs have been contacted by staff since moving to remote learrning, Williams said, with less than 1% remaining without contact. Counselors are also preparing their schedules to work with higher-risk students when school begins again in the fall, she said.

Among the district’s driving priorities has been keeping a workforce ready for when students come back to school, Bonser said. The district passed a resolution allowing for the continued payment of all staff in April.

“We need the bus drivers, even though they're not driving,” Bonser said. “They need to stay with us so that when we run the buses again, we're ready to roll."

If there is an additional spike in cases later this year, plans for the summer and fall could look different, Bonser said. The district is making plans and decisions for every scenario as soon as they can, she said.

“I imagine y'all have some fatigue,” Bonser said. “We also have a little planning fatigue—right?—because our plans need plans. And so I would say it really is a tireless effort.”

The district has worked in conjunction with state, county and city representatives to make many of its decisions and will continue to do so, Bonser said. District members are also attending biweekly meetings with the Texas School Alliance, which is made up of the 40 largest school districts in the state, to stay better informed, she said.

Families and students have been provided with school supplies through the Plano ISD Education Foundation, and over 200,000 meals have been provided by the district. Access to internet has been provided through Park and Connect opportunities at schools as well as by continued deployment of internet hot spots to homes, Williams said.

“Probably the biggest partnership in this has been our PTA, our parents, and our kids, who have done things that we never imagined asking them to do,” Bonser said, "and now, [we] are depending on them to do that.”

Anyone with ideas on how to help or who would like to be engaged in helping the district can view help opportunities to do so on the PISD website.