Round Rock ISD officials hosted a virtual town hall on Thursday, July 30 to focus on the operations and procedures to be put in place for middle and high school instruction in the upcoming school year. Campuses will reopen through a three phase approach closely designed around the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s Considerations for Schools guidelines.
On Thursday, Aug. 20 in phase one, all students will learn virtually from home for the first three weeks of the fall semester. Thursday, Sep. 10 marks the start of phase two, where students will have the opportunity to return to school for on-campus instruction with limited person-to-person interaction in the learning environment. The district will closely monitor the public health conditions in our region to determine the best beginning date for phase three, in which students attending physically will have more freedom to move around during the school day.
“All students are getting the same instruction, Area Superintendent of the Westwood Learning Community Becky Donald said. “When we look at coming into school, we know that to keep people safe and to meet all the CDC guidelines, we’re going to have students in small groups or learning labs. They’re [going to] have all their equipment they need to be successful in the building as well as at home.”
Middle and high school students that choose to return to campus will be assigned to virtual classes with a mentor teacher that facilitates both synchronous and asynchronous instruction through the learning management system Schoology in addition to providing support services. The proposed model will allow for students to keep their schedules intact and adhere to them regardless of their selected choice of instruction.
“Mentor teacher[s] will support [students] socially and emotionally. [They] will have an opportunity to make [an] impact on them on a daily basis, assist them when they have questions, [and] help them to re-acclimate themselves to the learning environment,” Stony Point High School Principal Anthony Watson said.
Arranged asynchronous blocks during the day have been designed to allow for more flexibility and tailor to the needs of all learners as educational equity remains a priority. Students will be able to engage in self-paced independent learning or practice that aligns with the lesson objectives. Teachers will also be able to personalize this time in order to offer small group instruction, tutorial sessions, or additional guidance or resources to students who need it.
“We [want to] make sure that we provide opportunities for our teachers to connect with students, and to build relationships and maintain those relationships,” Deer Park Middle School Principal Zac Oldham said.
As recommended by the Texas Education Agency (TEA), RRISD, along with many other districts around the state will be moving back to a traditional grading scale as opposed to the pass/fail system put in place in the spring semester. In addition, middle and high school principals have asked to move from a six-week grading period to a nine-week grading period, which will provide additional opportunities for students to demonstrate mastery of concepts.
“While we won’t cover any less curriculum than we typically do, it does allow our teachers more time to authentically assess children and make sure that the learning environment and anything that the pandemic could cause as a negative does not result in harm to student grades,” Dr. Mario Acosta said.
University Interscholastic League (UIL) sanctioned activities will see some considerable changes as the organization provides guidelines for a modified year. Schools will be responsible for developing plans to allow athletic programs to safely play out the season. Face coverings will be required for all student athletes and spectators, and additionally, stadium and venue capacity will be limited to 50 percent. Starting Monday, Sept. 10, off-season sports may practice before and after school for one hour.
“There are simply [going to] be fewer games played in many of our sports as a result of a UIL change where either tournaments have been eliminated or maybe the sports calendar season has been shortened. Everything will be about an emphasis on safety to the extent at all possible,” Athletic Director Dwayne Weirich said.
Students who continue to receive virtual instruction at the start of phase two of reopening will be able to come to campus to participate in select electives such as athletics and fine arts, but will be responsible for their transportation. The district is still looking into ways to minimize contact and mitigate risk with the possibility of holding outdoor classes for certain courses. For high school students enrolled in Career and Technical Education (CTE) courses, a list of safety measures, instructional materials, and protective supplies needed for in-person learning is being developed.
“We’re investigating an [alternative] to our in-person instruction, where students could stay engaged, in their content area,” Director of CTE Sheri Bonds said. “The coursework would count for their academy and endorsement pursuit for the year. They could choose at the following year to enroll in the CTE course that they had deemed in their sequence.”
As the public health conditions in our region are ever-evolving, RRISD states that they are committed to remaining flexible as they continue to communicate decisions with parents and guardians in preparation for the 2020-2021 school year. For more information and full recordings of all town hall meetings, visit the district’s Reimagining Education website.