By Samuel Sutton at the Fredericksburg Standard, October 7th, 2020
After the decision was made to continue providing remote learning at the Fredericksburg Independent School District, Supt. Dr. Jeffrey Brasher is looking at ways to help alleviate the heavy workloads of teachers.
The decision was made last Monday, Sept. 28, during the FISD Board of Trustees meeting.
Brasher feels the increased amount of work it takes to teach remote and in-person classes leaves teachers with little time to focus on students individually, which has an impact on student engagement. Based on preliminary data, Brasher estimates roughly 40% of remote learners are not actively engaged.
“If they’re not logging in, you know they’re not learning,” Brasher said. “What’s most important is that our students are learning and they are engaged. That’s been the challenge.”
Heather Davis, a seventh grade English teacher, said she works no less than 12 hours every day and 50% of her class is still failing. She has struggled the most with ensuring her remote students get the same quality of education as her in-person students.
“I have to find material that works with my online students while still meeting (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills) guidelines,” she said. “Usually, my online students are not doing the same rigorous work as my in-person students.”
She began trying to stream her in-person classes live for her online students, but very few are logging in.
Gail Savage, who teaches Pre-AP and sophomore English at Fredericksburg High School, said her main challenge is keeping everyone on track when students are coming in and out due to quarantine.
“It is kind of messy at times, but we are making it work,” she said.
According to survey results provided by School Board President Dr. Lance Love, most teachers want to do away with remote learning. (See accompanying graph.)
|End Remote Learning||YES||NO|
|FPS (prefers in-person)||–||–|
Brasher wants to provide teachers like Davis and Savage with more resources to ease their stress and give them extra time to focus on students.
“When you’re stretched so thin, you can only do so much within the time that you have,” Brasher said.
He added teacher and student needs are different for each campus.
“For the high school, we’re looking at more tech support, at middle school we’re looking at an additional counselor to help with the social and emotional piece, and at the elementary, we’re looking at adding another instructional staff member who could help with technology,” Brasher said.
The district is also looking at other resources, including adding more professional development days, a staff member who could help parents with technological support. A math coach at FPS and a full-time remote learning teacher at SES.
While these resources may be helpful, the question of funds comes into play. In total, Brasher said adding all of the needed resources would cost over $485,000.
“We do have a ‘rainy-day fund,’ what we call our fund balance, and it would likely come out of that at the end of the year,” Brasher said.
FISD has $12.5 million, or three-and-a-half months of fund balance. The state requires a district have three months of savings.
“If you use too much of the fund balance, you could put yourself into not a great position if you had serious emergency issues,” Brasher said.
It also doesn’t help that the district could miss out on nearly $200,000 in state funding due to a slight decrease in enrollment. FISD reports 3,113 students enrolled, which is about a 1% decrease from the 3,145 reported this time last year.
Fortunately, Brasher said, the state has chosen to delay cutting funding due to enrollment declines for an extra six weeks.
He added that the district is trying to bring students back by continuing to provide quality education and meeting the needs of students.
“We’re also in the process of doing some polling, calling and sending surveys to parents, so we can have them tell us input on what we can do to make them feel safer about sending their kids back to school,” Brasher said.
Brasher said he would like the state to continue giving some leeway on accountability.
“I’m fine with students taking the STAAR tests, but I don’t think we should be given an accountability rating, considering these circumstances that we are experiencing.”
Overall, Brasher feels like the state has “done their very best” managing this pandemic, just as everyone else has.
“There are some areas where we’ve done a fantastic job, and there are definitely areas where we all fall short. But really, I think that everyone has stepped up, worked hard and has done the best that we could,” Brasher said.