Friday Focus – 03-13-2020

Dear Team,

I long for the “good old days”, like two weeks ago! How quickly our world can change as we’re all experiencing right now.

Fridays before Spring Break are usually filled with excitement and anticipation, but for many of us, the enthusiasm over time off has been overshadowed by uncertainty and anxiety as we watch the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

I know many of you are wondering how this unprecedented event will impact the school year, particularly with Austin ISD making the call at 3:30 a.m. to cancel classes today and with the first two confirmed cases in Travis County. I want to assure you that I and my leadership team are discussing this hourly and talking several times a day to local and state health experts, superintendents around the state, the Texas Education Agency, and closely monitoring advisories from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Any decision we make will be in consultation with all of these groups and in the best interest of our students, staff and community.

These are not easy decisions. No one knows better than you that, beyond the academic impact, closing schools has social ramifications as well for many of our most vulnerable students. Some children depend on the breakfast and lunch our food service workers provide as what might be their only hot meals of the day. Hard-working parents depend on schools to be open to provide childcare so that they can go to work and provide for their families. And our students that need the most help academically to catch up with their peers can least afford to miss school. Providing online education can bridge the gap, but we can’t assure every child has reliable internet access or an adult at home who can help them.

That being said, we also understand that the health of our staff and students — the health of our community, state, nation and world — is invaluable. As Superintendent, I will not put that at stake. I will follow the advice of health and government leaders and, if closing schools is what is necessary to slow the spread of this virus and enable our healthcare system to better care for those who contract the disease, we will take that step. And we will execute a plan to keep kids safe and learning.

We will communicate via email, text and phone any critical information you need to receive. You can also check for information on our COVID-19 web page and follow us on Twitter or Facebook for updates.

In the meantime, I want you to remember that fear can spread faster than a virus. We should stay informed, use precautions, but don’t let panic rule the day. I read a great article yesterday called “This Can Be Our Finest Hour-But We Need All Of You” that was a great reminder that we all have a part to play and we can all help in a time when we may feel helpless. I especially liked this part:

When the Apollo 13 oxygen tank failed and the lunar module was in danger of not returning to earth, Gene Kranz, the lead flight director overheard people saying that this could be the worst disaster NASA had ever experienced—to which he is rumored to have responded, “With all due respect, I believe this is going to be our finest hour.”

I spoke to our Director of Behavioral Health Dr. Amy Grosso about how the events of Wednesday, particularly, seemed to snowball and were causing a rising level of panic that was palpable. The last thing we need to do is telegraph this fear to our students. She offered this advice:

“With all the 24/7 coverage of the coronavirus, it is hard to not feel not only your stress but also your anxiety start to rise. Often fear is a result of not feeling like you are in control of a situation. While there are so many things not in our control at the current time, it is critical to focus on what is in your control. For example, you can control routine handwashing, staying home if you are sick, and keeping your hands from your face. While we could look at reports every minute of the day, this is probably not the best for your fear or anxiety, so limit how much time you spend on researching, watching, or reading about the virus.

“One of the biggest things we can control is how we talk to kids about the current situation. If all we are showing is fear and anxiety, they too will start to only feel fear and anxiety. We can have open and honest conversations without basing it all in fear. Remember to stay to the facts, not the fear.”

So, as we head into Spring Break, and a bit into the unknown, stay the course. Control what you can. Do your part. Know that we are here working on this challenge, too, and that we will need your help. There’s no one I’d rather face this challenge with than the people of Round Rock ISD.

Stay healthy and enjoy your Spring Break!

Thanks for reading. I’ll write again soon.

Steve Flores, Ph.D.
Superintendent of Schools