As what was arguably one of the most memorable school years this century came to a close, GISD Superintendent Dr. Fred Brent shared his thoughts on the successes and opportunities for growth that will keep the students he cares about so deeply moving forward. Like many in pandemic leadership, Dr. Brent is exceedingly proud of the efforts and dedication of those under his guidance; administration and staff, principals, teachers, and students alike.
For starters, although it’s June, there is no rest for the Superintendent or the many professionals he leads. The District has Summer programs already underway to assist students wishing to accelerate their recovery in learning. “We recognize the past 15 months have been a challenge for all and our campuses are reaching out to students who will benefit most from a Summer semester. We expect the full adjustment to take about three years, and we will reach out at all levels to make sure students continue making academic progress.”
From the beginning, the mission was to open schools safely, and to the fullest degree possible. Dr. Brent says, “Early on, our district staff at every level committed to that goal. From day one, our teachers, principals, and instructional teams’ top priority was to enable academic growth and show progress for every student, wherever they were in their learning. As well, we put safety protocols in place to provide as much of the school experience possible for each student, including extracurricular activities and competitive sports.”
The district as a whole showed resolve, and that speaks to our belief that public education is the foundation of this community. Our people revealed who we were.
In schools and in homes, school counselors completely rebuilt their services to reach out and take care of the emotional needs of the students. “Counselors, teachers, and principals made home visits to reach out and connect with our kids. We were all moved by a visit with one student who was shouldering the sacrifice of remote learning, and was struggling missing his friends, because his grandparents live with his family. The principal just talked to him at the door to see how he was doing, but it proved the principal’s love for his kids and the kids for their families. There are countless stories of that kind of personal outreach.”
Dr. Brent also praised his team for their ability to roll out technology to the degree they were able. “It was already in our plans to provide a device—as a one-to-one district—and WiFi access to every student. We are partnering with the Citizens Advisory Committee to make that happen.”
“The bottom line,” he adds, “is COVID was an obstacle, but we never stopped moving forward. There were lessons learned but we never stop striving to meet the needs of all students.”
Dr. Brent shows his characteristic joy and enthusiasm when he talks about the things revealed by the technology adaptations of the school year. “In our implementation of more technology-driven instruction, we have been introduced to greater numbers of and diversity in learning platforms. They are opening our minds to new ways to meet kids where they are. Our children are exploring things, with new technology, we didn’t have in the past.”
He believes the abrupt pivot of 2020 that fostered the use of those new platforms will enable the District to address gaps identified in 2019 scores. “Some students flourished in this atypical environment, and when we bring everyone back, teachers will have more tools to provide a blended level of instruction that will enable kids to pick up where they left off, we simply have to be patient. Our kids just survived a global pandemic and they deserve for us to fill the gaps in the time they’ve lost; we need to help them recover. Learning builds on itself, and we will be thorough with our standards to make sure all students have what they need to connect to the next level and achieve proper academic growth.”
Dr. Brent has great confidence that the District will respond to the heightened social and emotional needs of the students. “You will not hear anyone say, ‘You’re behind and we have to crank up the work.’ Wherever they turn, our students will know we are glad to have them back and eager to get started on our new journey.” Other positive changes include:
Tippit Middle School’s daily wellness check, which helped counselors identify where and when new student needs emerge, will be adapted District-wide.
Masks became optional as of June 1 and plans are being made to remove the plastic dividers to strengthen students’ social engagement.
All students will return in-person. Remote learning will only be available to students enrolled in special programs at Richarte High School.
BE A PART OF IT
Dr. Brent encourages everyone in the community to explore opportunities to connect and volunteer. “Always ask. My hope is that people will not form assumptions out of any hesitancy to ask us the hard questions. We are constantly trying to tell the story of so many great things and I hope people will call, come to our public meetings, and continue to engage with us.”
He is also excited to work with new Trustees. “We are here to serve the community and the Trustees they elect. My job is to bring them my expertise and share the work we are really doing. My hope is that anyone who serves will bring their best thinking to the table and keep us all moving forward.”