Friday Focus – 05-15-2020

Dear Team,

Six days from now, Thursday, May 21, at 4:20 p.m., the final bell will ring, marking, in the most traditional way, the end of the 2019-2020 school year.

But this school year has been anything but traditional.

This year, when that final bell rings, there will be no cheers, applause and laughter. No students spilling out into the hallways caught in the fevered excitement that only the last day of school can bring. No tears from our Teachers as they bid “good luck” and farewell to their students that by this date became their very own. The classrooms are empty. The hallways are silent. They have been for nine weeks now. In the words of The Grateful Dead, “What a long, strange trip it’s been.”

What will be coming to a close is the end, or pause, of the most disruptive period in education — not just for us here in Round Rock ISD, but around the world. I know these last two-and-a-half months have been difficult for all of us, for a variety of reasons. We’re worried for our health or the health of loved ones, we miss seeing and serving the students on our campuses, we’re struggling to take care of children at home while doing our own jobs from home. We miss the “normalcy” and routine of life, though we all know that there really is no such thing as a “normal life.”

In the midst of all of this, the Round Rock ISD team — each and every one of you — has persevered and done your part to keep students learning, to keep them fed, to make sure our employees receive their paychecks, to keep our campuses clean, sanitized and safe. We have been operating in crisis mode because that is what we’ve faced. But as the calendar turns, it gives us the opportunity to be strategic, to evaluate scenarios, and to be ready for whatever the future brings. As the nation reopens, we can find solace that our #rrisd1family never shut down.

To that end, we have assembled a Fall 2020 Planning Task Force which includes representatives from across the District, including campus administration, operations, human resources, curriculum, assessment, special education, technology and more. The Task Force is divided into five committees tasked with answering crucial questions. They are:

  • Safety & Operations: WHAT DO WE NEED TO PLAN FOR IF SCHOOL AND DISTRICT FACILITIES ARE UTILIZED?
  • Human Resources & Legal: WHAT ARE THE EXPECTATIONS AND RIGHTS OF PERSONNEL?
  • Curriculum & Instruction: HOW DO WE SUPPORT IN-PERSON AND VIRTUAL TEACHING AND LEARNING IN FALL 2020?
  • Student Support Services: HOW WILL STUDENTS BE PROVIDED SEL, COUNSELING, MENTORING AND MENTAL/BEHAVIORAL SUPPORT?
  • Professional Development: WHAT TRAINING IS NEEDED FOR STAFF TO PREPARE FOR THEIR ROLES?

We will keep you informed of the progress of these groups and decisions as they are made and as circumstances change. We will also be reaching out to you, and our community, for input and direction on priorities as we prepare for the next school year. My greatest hope (and dream) is that we all return to our campuses on Aug. 20 and resume school as we’ve known it. But we all know that we are living in a new normal, and I fear my greatest hope is unlikely to be realized. The safety of our students and staff will continue to be our top priority.

What we are more likely to see is a hybrid approach to education, that allows for the social distancing that is necessary to keep our community safe and healthy and perhaps allows parents a choice to have their children receive instruction at home or at school, or both. These are all scenarios we are scrutinizing and studying so we can have a plan in place when the new school year begins. Round Rock ISD has never been a District that waits to see what path others take. We set the standard. We raise the bar. I am confident that our model could become a model for the region, the state, and even the nation.

Maybe it’s the teacher in me, but I truly believe that we all have the ability inside of us to create our own masterpiece — in some way and in some medium. Whether it’s music, art, dance, writing or maybe some other talent, like the ability to be the most loyal friend, to encourage others, to make the best barbecue, or to advocate like no other for a worthy cause. Not everyone wants to share their masterpiece, because even the masters have critics. Michelangelo had to deal with it when Piero Soderini, a statesman of Florence, informed one of the most brilliant artists of the Renaissance that he had sculpted David’s nose too big. Never allow the fear of critics to be a reason to diminish the “inner genius” in each of us.

It takes courage to work on our masterpiece and defy the critics. Together, this is our opportunity to create a masterpiece for public education. But it will take every one of us working together with dedication, resolve and a commitment to innovation and flexibility.

Speaking of flexibility, there has been discussion here in Texas, and across the nation, about whether returning to school early for the 2020-2021 school year is a potential option. While I will tell you that nothing is concrete in these uncertain times, I have no plans to recommend altering the start date for the upcoming year. Given where we are in this pandemic and the fact that there is not a vaccine in our near future, I am doubtful that bringing students and staff back to campus earlier than our scheduled first day of school, August 20, would be our best course of action.

While these are definitely uncertain times, I am happy that today I can provide you with some sense of certainty. Last night, the Board of Trustees approved a 2 percent salary increase for all employees. As I told you last week, I wish it could’ve been more. But with the potential economic fallout from this global pandemic, I believe this is a wise decision to keep our salaries competitive while also preparing for what the future may hold. I am grateful for a Board of Trustees that values our Round Rock ISD teachers, administrators and staff and understands that an investment in them is ultimately an investment in our students and our future.

Good luck on this last week of what has been an unimaginably challenging year. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, there’s no other team I’d rather be surrounded by in a global pandemic than this one right here in Round Rock ISD. You are simply the best.

Let’s grab our “paintbrush” and let’s create our masterpiece together. I promise, our students will benefit. I believe in us!

Thanks for reading, I’ll write again soon.
Respectfully,

Steve Flores, Ph.D.
Superintendent of Schools