Glenda Holder, the executive director of the gifted and talented program, was joined by Chief Communications Officer Elaina Polsen and Assistant Superintendent of Elementary Education Holly Hughes at the first livestream event. Administrators said that they are committed to meeting the unique social, emotional and intellectual needs of the district’s gifted and talented students, including providing intellectually challenging experiences through as many avenues as possible.
“We assure you that what is right, and what we believe gifted and talented students need, is at the center of everything that we’re building,” Holder said.
Gifted and talented, or GT, programming will continue regardless of mode of instruction during the 2020-21 academic year, Holder said. This includes the intermediate-level WAVE and science magnet programs, which will be offered through Clear Connections. The programming will be adhered to support students between CCISD modes of instruction, according to slides presented during the livestream.
Student input will factor into which GT mini-courses are offered, Holder said. The goals of the program and the mini-courses remain the same: to encourage exploration with students.
“We want those experiences to do that, to enrich and allow students to explore a topic ... that they aren’t sure about,” Holder said.
Administrators added that they are working to structure the school day for all students so that they still have time to socialize, regardless of their learning environment. GT students can connect with each other through Clear Connections by interacting with their peers through platforms such as Microsoft Teams, Holder said.
Course selections began at 1 p.m. July 15 for the high school students choosing Clear Connections. Administrators encouraged students and families to make their decisions about online versus in-person instruction by the end of July to allow for time to hire the appropriate staff.
Executive Director of Special Services Michele Staley joined Polsen in a separate livestream July 15 to discuss how special education students would have their needs met during the 2020-21 school year amid the coronavirus pandemic. The brick-and-mortar model, Staley said, will focus on individualized health plans for each special education student, but there are more questions than answers when it comes to how special education services will work through Clear Connections.
The district is researching virtual schools around the country and consulting with other school districts as well as attorneys about how to provide remote special education instruction, Staley said. She added that, if a service cannot be provided virtually, there will be arrangements made to send providers into the students’ homes.
“What you experienced in the spring is not what you're going to experience this fall,” Polsen said during the livestream.
Administrators are working with the district’s technology department and the principal of Clear Connections to ensure service providers are up-to-date with the latest technology in order to provide services. In the spring, not every provider was well-equipped to suddenly adapt with the emergency closure, Polsen and Staley said.
“We are going to provide those services regardless of that environment you are in,” Staley said, adding that the services provided must be decided in an admission, review and dismissal, or ARD, meeting. “I cannot say that enough: It has to be decided in an ARD.”
Still, Staley and Polsen acknowledged that ARDs can take months to complete. In the event that many special education students sign up for Clear Connections, an ARD meeting must take place legally to allow for that change in placement. ARDs will be prioritized, if necessary, based on the number and level of services a student needs.
Staley encouraged special education parents to be as patient as possible during this time but invited them to reach out to the special services department at 281-284-0750 with questions or concerns related to individual plans for their children. She and the department will be able to listen and respond, she said.
“It's really important that we get this right for your student and that we partner with you,” said Staley, who started as executive director during the same week the district went into emergency closure in mid-March. “I know you don't know me, but I am very student-centered. ... I’m here to work for you.”