The Dublin ISD in Erath County was one of the first districts in Texas to go back to school. The year started back on Aug. 4 with the majority of students in the classroom and a small group opting to learn at home.
Now a month later, the superintendent tells NBC 5, it's been a smooth start.
“We've had very few hiccups at all,” said Superintendent Rodney Schneider. “Our safety protocols are pretty intense from the minute they get out of their cars. Kids are great. Adapted well to wearing masks and social distancing protocols and they've really embraced it. And I think a lot of it is, they're just glad to be back."
Schneider credits district leadership for a back to school plan that started in March when COVID-19 shut down school and kids were sent home. Now months later, learning is again happening in classrooms designed for safety and social distancing.
Still, there have been a few bumps. One student out of almost 1,100 tested positive for the virus, putting four others in quarantine.
“We’ve been blessed to only have one positive case and to do contact tracing. But to do that, that took myself, the assistant superintendent, principal, and several other folks about five hours to do, just to make sure we could see every child that might've been infected or might've been exposed. I think I would've tried to plan that out a little better. But again, like we've been saying around here, we'll do a whole lot better in our next pandemic,” Schneider said.
The biggest challenge has come in teaching two groups of students at the same time.
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“When 88% of your kids are sitting in front of you and you're spending a lot of energy on the 12%, it's been pretty tough,” Schneider said. “The difficulty of trying to do in person and remote learners was much more complex than we even figured, to begin with. It seemed a lot simpler until we began to get it in practice. So, it's been really exhaustive, so we've had to make a few adjustments.”
The district consolidated classes at lower grades to enable two teachers at the elementary and intermediate campuses to soon focus solely on remote learners. Other grade level teachers will be dedicated to kids learning in person.
Schneider says the COVID slide educators feared is very real but just a month in, kids are making gains.
“We are seeing some of younger kids that are two and three grade levels below what they were when they left as far as reading and mathematics and that goes all the way up,” Schneider said. “We've had a real strong foundation of academics success in our schools, so our kids were very strong. So we are picking up gains quickly. I'm very pleased with that.”
He’s also pleased that early messages about patience, flexibility and communication have paid off when changes have had to be made.
Another change comes in two weeks when Dublin adjusts the hybrid model that started the year.
Since August, everyone has learned at home on Mondays. Those who chose in-person go to classrooms Tuesdays through Fridays.
To again lighten the load on teachers, Pre-K through 8th grades who chose face-to-face will soon be in classrooms five days a week. The hybrid model will stay for high school students with everyone at home on Mondays.
While Schneider is pleased that the plan, along with a few tweaks, has allowed students to be back where his teachers believe learning happens best, the veteran educator knows it's a long road ahead.
“I’m gonna be straight honest with you, our next step is just to finish today and to finish tomorrow. Our concern is for the safety and well being of these kids and it's each day, to get through without anyone getting sick, any staff member,“ Schneider said.