The Dallas ISD board of trustees is set to meet Thursday night in one of their final meetings of 2020.
From food storage to internet access and state requirements, it's clear the pandemic has added onto their list of things to tackle heading into the new year.
NBC 5 spoke with Michael Rosenberger, executive director of Food and Child Nutrition Services, about some of the side effects of the pandemic that they just didn’t expect.
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At Thursday’s meeting, his department hopes to solve one of those by finding a place to store excess food and supplies from a “logistical nightmare” that occurred at the onset of the pandemic.
“It was kind of crazy for a while,” Rosenberger described.
Like any large entity, the district budgets its money out for the year, which means purchases and orders are placed months in advance. Before the pandemic began, food services had already put in orders on food to feed 150,000 students for all of March, April and May.
But when the pandemic hit and schools shut down in the spring, they still had various shipments of food coming in that the district couldn't cancel.
“Our food is ordered a month in advance or longer. So the shutdown kind of caught us off guard because we had food ordered and paid for that was due to come into our warehouse,” Rosenberger explained.
Tons of dry and frozen food, plates and plastic trays – literal millions of dollars worth of bulk food – were coming in, with nowhere to put it. The district found a temporary place to store that extra food and supplies so it wouldn't go to waste until they could address the needs of students first.
Those needs included feeding countless lower-income students and families who had lost employment due to the pandemic with take-home and to-go style meals. DISD turned into a sort of food bank, distributing a week’s worth of food in massive drive-throughs.
Rosenberger said 10 million meals have been served so far.
“We had a lot of families really suffering so we were happy to be able to bring that program and feed a lot of hungry students," he said. "Our mission continues whether school in or out, we’re here to take care of the kids. And make sure that they have the food they need to be successful.“
The food that was originally purchased for cafeteria meals were not quite equipped to be served to families picking up in those special food distributions.
“We were kind of caught between all this food coming in, which is packed much like you would get at Sam’s Club. It’s a huge case of food,” explained Rosenberger. “And it’s intended to be opened and cooked and then served to individual students. That type of food, the bulk pack, doesn’t work really well when you’re trying to serve a week's worth of food in a to-go format on a one-day basis.”
He said his department has been able to find more equilibrium in the months since, as they juggle feeding both at-home learners and students at the schools.
"We've been able to use a lot of the bulk packed food now. We pack a lot of it now ourselves for individual servings in the curbside meals program,” he said. "We're kind of running two meals programs right now. We're serving the in-person learners as we normally would and we do a meals program once a week for virtual students.”
On Thursday night, the board will discuss entering into a contract with a company, Maverick Fulfillment, to serve as a more permanent place to keep the excess supplies and prevent another logistical nightmare in the future.
“They are a food storage company. They have dry storage, refrigerators and huge freezers -- bigger than what you see at Costco or Sam’s,” said Rosenberger.
Another side effect of the pandemic -- goals with the Texas Education Agency. This is an agenda item that will also be addressed at Thursday night’s meeting.
The TEA requires that every district establish annual targets for student outcome goals and goal progress measures.
DISD did that but according to a memo on the agenda, the pandemic has made it impossible to reach some of those goals. The targets range from student achievement levels for different subjects or state assessments.
The board is aiming to revise those goals to account for issues related to COVID-19.
Finally, the board will continue its efforts in addressing and improving internet access in the district.
According to the agenda, the board will discuss a project to construct a private cell network that would provide high-speed internet for five DISD communities including Pinkston, Roosevelt, South Oak Cliff, Spruce and Lincoln high schools.
Data shows those are the areas with the highest need. According to the district, the private cellular networks would provide high-speed access to the district’s educational resources to families living in the neighborhoods immediately surrounding those schools.
The district said the goal of this project is to pilot the technology in these neighborhoods to determine feasibility for long-term investment and scale. Click here to learn more.