Chairita Franklin, assistant superintendent for human resources, said while teacher vacancies are actually down from this time last year, the district typically has about 100 teacher openings throughout the year. Additionally, there were only enough substitute teachers to cover 73% of teacher absences during the first week—instructional support and other staff members covered the remaining classes.
CFISD Chief of Staff Teresa Hull said at the Sept. 14 board meeting the district anticipated 118,498 students this year, but 115,923 were enrolled by the end of the first week of classes.
“Enrollment is down,” she said. “I think we’re seeing that trend, though, statewide. It’s not anything that is unique to Cypress-Fairbanks.”
Enrollment declines were particularly high in pre-K, kindergarten, third, fifth and ninth grade, according to district data. Overall, middle school enrollment is on target with projections, and high school enrollment has exceeded projections. The student population tends to grow over the course of the school year, and Hull said this is likely to be the case for 2020-21 as well.
Nearly 39,000 technology devices and more than 7,200 mobile internet hot spots were distributed to students in need as of the Sept. 14 meeting, and officials said as many as 14,000 more devices could arrive by late October.
District officials said they are still on track to have enough devices for all students in the district by the end of the fall semester, but students taking virtual classes will be prioritized as more devices are delivered.
Hull said officials are also working to create an online dashboard that would report confirmed COVID-19 cases among students and staff by campus in real time starting in October. Between Sept. 8-13, no students and four staff members were confirmed positive—at Copeland, Jowell and Yeager elementary schools as well as Salyards Middle School.
Several district teachers shared their own experiences from the first week of school during the meeting. The board heard stories of teachers wanting to quit their jobs, administrators not supporting their staff members and tears shed in the last week.
Pre-K teacher Traci Manley said social distancing has not been feasible in her classroom of 14 in-person students while her teaching partner works with virtual students from a closet on campus. Manley said she was recently recognized as “Teacher of the Year” at her elementary school, but campus leadership has not been willing to accept her input or ideas during the pandemic.
“I go to sleep crying; I do not sleep through the night; I wake up crying; and I start my day that way,” she said at the meeting. “I’ve been told that I take things too personally and to just relax. I am taking it personally—I will take a bullet for my students, but I cannot protect them against COVID under these situations.”
Parents who spoke also shared concerns that the blended virtual and in-person model is not sustainable, and both parents and teachers asked the district to have dedicated teachers for online learning and dedicated teachers for in-person learning.
Speakers Sept. 14 noted challenges particularly with the virtual CFISD Connect program, including technology issues, language barriers, the amount of time students are expected to spend in front of screens and students receiving less attention than those attending in person.
Paul Langone, another former “Teacher of the Year” in CFISD, said he and his wife, who also teaches in the district, each worked around 80 hours last week.
“The most common word I’ve heard in the last week from teachers is ‘exhausted,’ and it’s only the first week,” he said.
District officials told the board that between Aug. 1-Sept. 15 last year, two teachers requested counseling services for themselves, but that number was up to 30 sessions in the same timeframe for 2020-21.
Trustee Debbie Blackshear said while her grandchildren are enjoying attending classes on CFISD campuses again, she is concerned about the stress teachers are facing.
“Whether you have taught for one year ... or whether you had taught for 20 years or more, this was going to be totally new to everyone,” she said. “We are trying so hard to make it a safe environment for kids, and I’m going to have to say it really distresses me when I hear that maybe some in our school leadership are not listening to our teachers and may not be receptive to the positive feedback they’re trying to give about their situation in their classroom. We have to make this work.”