Mesquite ISD is kicking off its first day of school on Wednesday.
The district is celebrating some new things this year, including the grand opening of Vanguard High School – the first new high school in the district in more than 20 years.
For many students, it will be the first time back to class in person since March 2020.
“I’m very excited about the school year,” said superintendent David Vroonland in an interview with NBC 5. “Obviously it’s going to come with some challenges. We all know that. But getting kiddos back to school, seeing the smiles on their face and seeing the teachers excited about getting in front of them. And frankly, just getting children educated – that’s what we do that’s what we’re passionate about.”
MISD is also launching a new teacher initiative for struggling students with learning loss.
Vroonland said they've hired a huge team of learning recovery specialists – two for every campus in the district.
They're trained specifically to spend 36 hours a week working with targeted students.
“We’ve spiraled the curriculum and we’ve added what’s called a learning recovery teacher.. we're paying them a $10,000 stipend and that teacher will spend an extra 30 hours or so working with some small subsets of students to catch them up while we keep them on track,” said Vroonland.
He says the district has invested about 20-30 million in this new staff, covered by federal COVID-19 relief money.
Of the 40,000 students in the district, he says about 10,000 students have suffered from learning loss.
“You’re talking roughly 30% of your students who were pretty significantly impacted. All students have learning gaps, that’s going to be a part of the normal education process but we’re talking about significant gaps mostly due to the virtual learning presence,” said Vroonland.
Vroonland said so far, he has no plans of bringing back virtual this year.
“We will not have teachers teaching in dual platforms again. It’s not gonna happen. It was a very difficult lift for teachers. Put them in very difficult situations handling kids face to face and virtual at the same time,” he said. “I will never say never. You have to be careful saying that. The difference is, we will not follow some of the processes that we followed last year if we do end up in a virtual platform.”
He also spoke about the tough decisions district leaders have had to make regarding mask requirements and virtual learning, despite Gov. Greg Abbott's own orders banning districts from making such moves.
“The pressures are very real. Dealing with the choices and the decisions where we have a country that is not strongly united. And as a leader, you’re trying to bring people together for a common cause. In our case, educating our children, Vroonland said.
For now, he said he has no plans to require masks but will continue to strongly urge his students and teachers to wear them.
“That being said, I am for that there will be a reconsideration at that level that gives you more discretion to the local school districts to make those determinations. For me, that’s really important,” said Vroonland.
Mesquite ISD does have a safety plan in place, which involves contact tracing and daily sanitation protocols for schools.
Every school ask has a hospital-grade air purification system.
“We take this very seriously. Even in spite of the governor’s order and where people are on that, we’re going to take the safety of children very seriously. But alongside that, the education of children,” Vroonland said “I think the biggest challenge last year was a virtual presence and trying to meet the needs of families while also dealing with a challenge presented for teachers.“