dallas isd

Dallas ISD Teachers Focused on Improving Test Scores, Not Mask Policy

The district began school with a mask mandate in place despite an order from Gov. Abbott forbidding such mandates

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Students in the Dallas Independent School District were fully masked and back in the classroom Monday on the first day of school. The district even got the attention of the White House for its decision to mandate masks.

President Joe Biden (D) left a voicemail for Superintendent Michael Hinojosa thanking him for his stand, despite Texas' Republican Gov. Greg Abbott's order that allows students to choose to go mask-free.

Hinojosa said he would also add virtual learning options for students in just a few weeks, whether the state pays for it or not.

"I don't want them to go virtually. About 5% of our kids did better virtually, 95% did not, we need them here, but I also don't want to lose those kids to no school," Hinojosa said.

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The performance of students, not politics, is the concern inside classrooms no matter what district they're in.

Sarah Kate Littlefield taught ninth-grade biology last year. This year, she's at Prestonwood Montessori teaching STEM to the district's youngest learners with her old high school curriculum still top of mind.

"Exploring dirt and seeds and water, so we're starting hands-on right away," she said. "I want to make sure school's fun. I'm even thinking of a dissection."

Teachers at one of Dallas ISD's newest campuses said they were keenly aware of the work needing to be done this year, trying to get students caught up and exceeding.

"Grasping that knowledge from day one, finding out what the students are interested about and how can we explore that, how can we further their education," Prestonwood Montessori Assistant Principal Cristina Ibarra said.

Worksheets and technology are being set aside, especially for those kids who were on it for the past year and a half. Now, it's tactile work and the one-on-one interaction they may have missed. 

In the Pre-K classrooms, teachers are making sure those learners just starting out are positioned to socially adapt, especially since many of them sat home longer than they should have.

"I think they're still doing some type of learning at home, so they'll come in with their own type of knowledge which, will only help our classroom learn and grow more," said Jasmine Bryant, a teacher in the early learners class.

Teachers said there is no doubt the stakes are high, but they always are.

"I think we can push through this, I think we need to look at the student level where is this student at right now and where do we need to get them by the end of the year? You look at the big data for the whole country, that's where it gets overwhelming and feels dire," Littlefield said. "We as teachers, every year, whether it's a pandemic or not, are looking at each individual student. When you break it down to each student anything seems possible."

Enrollment numbers are also a concern in Dallas ISD. Students who began class in previous weeks did not show up in large numbers and it's prompted the district to pay for virtual learning from its rainy day fund. That will begin later this month.

"If this isn't a rainy day, I don't know what is," Hinojosa said.

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