LHISD schools ramp up service, add week to closure

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By MIKE EDDLEMAN

As Liberty Hill ISD has worked through its two most pressing needs in this first official week of school closures, the announcement of the “Stay Home Stay Safe” order from Williamson County Judge Bill Gravell added at least one more week to how long students will be at home.

“Based on the Williamson County order, school will remain closed at least until April 13,” said LHISD Superintendent Steve Snell. “That’s the plan today, but we’re planning to go longer if we have to as well.”

Despite some talking about schools remaining closed through the remainder of this school year, Snell said LHISD is focused on getting back to class.

“We’re doing everything we can, that’s not just Liberty Hill ISD, it’s a lot of people in our area, to do our part to slow the spread so we can get kids back in school as soon as everybody’s safe,” Snell said. “We want to conduct business as usual as soon as we can, so we’re not ready to throw in the towel. We want to continue to plan so learning continues while we’re closed, but we’re keeping hope things will slow down and we’ll be back to normal before the end of the year.”

This week, the focus has been on meals and electronic device distribution. As of Wednesday at noon, the district had delivered 1,310 meals for students through the bus route and pick up option at Bill Burden Elementary.

By the end of the day Wednesday, Snell said nearly 1,400 computer devices had been distributed to students. About 600 high school students already had Chromebooks, bringing the total to 2,000 students served with devices.

“We’re so thankful for our food service staff, our technology departments and (Assistant Superintendent) Mr. (Brad) Mansfield,” Snell said. “Their help in the massive distribution, along with the help of our curriculum team and principals on the online learning, are making this possible.”

Device distribution has been helped by the number of Chromebooks and iPads already spread throughout the district on different campuses.

“Basically we just gathered up every device that we have in the district,” Snell said. “They’re all barcoded and so we can scan them in, attach them to the student that’s checking them out and we can track them down from there. We have enough to where we can get a device in every student’s hand right now.”

The exercise in distribution this week has a silver lining for the future, according to Snell.

“We were probably as a district a year or two away from going to one-to-one devices with students, and because of this and our necessity to get devices in kids’ hands now, we’re ramping up what it’s going to look like when we get back to normal and seeing what we can do to let students have devices all the time,” he said.

Getting the devices to students is the first hurdle in the plan for remote instruction. Facilitating that instruction and making it manageable for everyone involved is the second.

“For this week and next we’re calling it phase one, and the number one goal is access and familiarity with the platforms and making sure kids have access,” Snell said. “We don’t want to overwhelm or confuse anybody. Some of the older kids already do a lot of e-mailing back and forth with their teachers and a lot of electronic turning in of assignments, but we’re very aware that all our families have their schedules disrupted right now. There’s lots of uncertainty in our community with job futures and everything else going on.”

Once students, parents and teachers are all familiar with the plan and new mode of instruction, curriculum will become more focused.

“As the school closures prolong, we’ll start to ramp up specific lessons, specific opportunities to engage with their teachers, and complete some work, but we’re still working out the details of what that might look like,” Snell said.

The question still remains whether the lessons being provided to students will be graded or not.

“If we don’t have kids connected or understanding it, and people are overwhelmed and they get lost in the translation it will be very difficult to produce quality work,” Snell said. “We’re going to take it slow so we can go fast later.”

The LHISD Board of Trustees voted Monday to postpone until November the Board election previously scheduled for May 2.

“I think there is just so much uncertainty with how long this will last that we just thought it was in the best interest of everybody, based on what we know everybody’s dealing with, to move that election to November,” Snell said of the decision. “There wasn’t a whole lot of discussion. I think everybody would have been okay with keeping it in May, it is just that we don’t know if this is going to get better or worse, and if it gets worse and we still try to have an election we don’t know what that might look like. The decision was really based on uncertainty.”

Place 2 incumbent and Board President Clay Cole chose not to seek reelection. In his place, three newcomers – Dana Munguia, Kendall Carter and Antonio Canas – will vie for the position.

Terry Smith filed to run in Place 1, taking on incumbent and Board Vice President Clint Stephenson.

With the focus on working out details and plans for immediate needs due to the closures, Snell said there is also a growing focus on making sure the district continues to prepare for the future as well.

“Our number one issue right now that all staff are working on is we want to get students fed, we want to get a device in their hand and we want to continue the learning as soon as we can. And then on the side ,we still have people going forward on all the business aspects of the district,” he said. “Construction will continue and stay on schedule as much as possible. The construction companies will be impacted by the slow down a little bit, but right now the plan is to keep on schedule with that.”

The Board voted to pay everyone per their regular schedule during the closure and Snell said the district has people working at home to keep things going.

“Future planning for the district will continue including approving positions for next year, and hiring staff, even if that might have to take place in a virtual format as well,” he said. “In Liberty Hill we can’t pause a lot of those conversations because the wheels keep turning and we have to be prepared for students when we come back.”

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