By Will Johnson
GRAPELAND – (EDITOR’S NOTE) After this article was written, Grapeland ISD Superintendent Don Jackson announced, “Grapeland ISD will extend the suspension of ‘normal’ district operations through Friday, April 17 in an effort to support our state and nation to slow down the spread of COVID-19 as well as mitigate any health risks to our students, staff and community.”
Despite the public school system being shut down until April 6 – at the very earliest – school administrators in Houston County are continuing to adapt and overcome as they provide instruction to students in some unique and different ways.
One such school district is in Grapeland and on Thursday, March 27, Grapeland ISD Superintendent Don Jackson spoke about what GISD is doing in an effort to keep the continuity of education flowing to its students.
“Basically, we have a system that is set up. I have to hand it to the principals and teachers. We talked about what we are going to do, but they are executing the plan. The principals are doing a good job of having these Google Hangout meetings once a week with their staff. They also meet with the administrative team on their campuses,” Supt. Jackson explained.
He said prior to being shut down by Governor Greg Abbott’s executive orders, the teachers were coming up to their respective campuses three days a week “… but we complied with his order and now we’re working with a skeleton crew.”
“What we’re trying to do,” Jackson said, “is to have the learning packets on the Thursday before they go out. Every Monday, we had out learning packets in the foyer of our buildings. We also take the packets on our busses when we bring lunches to the kids.”
There are currently four bus routes which are being run, he explained. This allows the district to feed approximately half of the enrolled students – between 250 and 300 – per day.
“Our system is operating based around getting the students lunch (or brunch) and getting them their lessons. Across the board, we have been getting homework back from our students. We hand out the homework and they bring it back to us. On Mondays, we pick up and deliver lessons,” he said.
According to GHS Principal Katie Doughty, after the first week of the COVID-19 closure: the 7th Grade had a homework return rate of 91%; 12th Grade was 81%; 10th Grade was 79%; 11th Grade was 72%; and 6th, 8th and 9th Grade were all at 70%.
At the elementary level, the superintendent said the return rate was 73%.
“I think students, teachers and administrators have a realization about the role school plays in our lives. We all have a different outlook and we will all have a different appreciation for when things return to normal. I know we have teachers who miss their students and students who miss their teachers,” the superintendent continued.
“The elementary school had a parade where they drove around town honking at their students. They got on social media and told them when they would be coming by as well as the route they would take. I will tell you the biggest problem we are having is the amount of teachers and administrators who want to ride the busses to deliver lunches,” Jackson said with a laugh.
The entire staff has stepped up to make the education of the students work under a set of circumstances no one could have foreseen, he indicated.
“The system we have now,” Jackson said, “is one I feel we could continue. My hope, however, is that we get to finish what we started. I hope we can get in by May 4 and finish the month of May in school. It will give our seniors a chance to participate in some lifelong things they have waited their whole lives to do – being a senior at prom, being a senior at graduation, academic and athletic banquets.”
“We have not cancelled anything in May, as of yet,” the superintendent asserted. “Our goal is to keep it on the schedule as long as we can. If we are out of school longer, we will have to take a look at what we will have to do. As of now, everything is still on schedule. We will only cancel if we have to and then innovation will have to take over. We are going to do what we can to salvage as much as we can by doing something innovative.”
Asked what he believed would be the point of no return for the 2019-2020 school year, Jackson said he believed it would be May 4, the first Monday in May.
“I feel like if we are not back in school by the first Monday in May, we may not come back to school this year,” he said.
Questioned about re-opening the schools on April 6, Jackson said, “Someone much smarter than me is tracking the growth of this virus. I’m sure they have the governor’s ear. He is going to have to make an educated decision as to where we go. We have all erred on the side of caution and I feel that will continue. I’ll be honest, I don’t want to be the one – nobody wants to be the one – to ignore a pandemic. This is truly in God’s hands. I hope we wait for the data to make it very evident as to what we should do.”
Before the conversation ended, Jackson expressed his appreciation to the faculty, staff and administration of GISD, as well as the community of Grapeland “… for coming together for our kids.”
Will Johnson may be contacted via e-mail at email@example.com.