Leaders from Bay Area schools, including four local ISDs and three colleges, said during a May 5 webinar that the coronavirus pandemic has encouraged them to rethink their approaches to education.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott closed public and private schools across the state for the rest of the academic year in mid-April. Since then, officials at Clear Creek, Friendswood, La Porte and Pasadena ISDs said they have made various efforts to connect and communicate with their students.
FISD Superintendent Thad Roher said the district’s goal with its 6,100 students is simply to connect with them and broaden their learning experiences. The district will conduct summer school virtually and continue looking at blended education approaches for the future, particularly if budget cuts become necessary, he said.
It has been a challenge for FISD to adjust, particularly given the rate at which things are changing across the county and state, he said.
“It’s Apollo 13 every day in Friendswood ISD. ... You don’t know what your landing date is going to be,” Roher said during the webinar, which was hosted by Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership.
Likewise, CCISD Superintendent Greg Smith said the district is unsure what school will look like for its 43,000 students in the fall. CCISD is considering a split-schedule system to ensure students will not have to continue distance learning, he said.
“I don’t believe the distance learning, long term, is the best way for our students to learn,” Smith said.
Since facilities closed, the district has fed more than 100,000 students across five different campuses through its drive-thru meal program, he added. Smith said CCISD is looking for ways to honor its graduating seniors, who are picking up their caps and gowns this week throughout the district. Commencement ceremonies were rescheduled for the end of July.
Smith views the challenges of the pandemic as an opportunity to reimagine education, he said.
“The challenge is to make it better over time, and that’s what we’re up for,” he said.
Officials at higher education institutions said they have adapted to remote instruction for the time being, but many questions remain unanswered about how they will proceed with course offerings in the fall.
At San Jacinto College, more than a third of enrolled students are taking technical courses, Chancellor Brenda Hellyer said. The college has had to adjust completion timelines for spring 2020 technical courses, she said, with students in various areas of study taking in-person final assessments throughout the next month.
The pandemic has already taken an economic toll on the Houston area. Enrollment usually grows at community colleges like San Jacinto during a recession, Hellyer said, but she does not see that being the case post-pandemic. The college will need to reassess in the coming months and may need to change course offerings based on the contemporary job market, she said.
“I wish I could say everything’s going to be just back to what it was,” she said. “I think we will have some piece of that.”
Warren Nichols, president of College of the Mainland, expressed similar concerns. He said that employing social distancing procedures on campus, such as limiting classroom sizes, could cost the college additional money to teach students the same material. Still, he said, campus construction projects are happening on schedule, and the college is in a stable position to move forward.
“We’re doing remarkably well ... considering how things are going elsewhere in our community,” Nichols said.
A paradigm shift will be necessary for educators across the board, whether they are working with kindergarten through 12th-grade students or students at the collegiate level, said Ira Blake, president of University of Houston-Clear Lake.
“What we really have to keep in mind is that the impact of this pandemic is going to reverberate for a long, long time,” Blake said. “It’s not about the old; it’s not about the ‘new normal'; it’s about ... [resdesigning] a better future for all of us.”