HCDE Schools Begin Back-to-School Virtually First, In-person Later to Serve Multiple Districts’ Needs

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August 7, 2020 by HCDE-Texas

Beginning Aug. 24, teachers and staff at Harris County Department of Education’s four special schools welcome students back from 39 client school districts and charter schools in greater Harris County. Instruction is virtual in the beginning. Later, in-person classes will be offered.

As an estimated 100 teachers drive by respective schools to get their computers next week, each receives a Lenovo laptop think pad with camera enabled for Microsoft Teams and Zoom.

“We are very focused on the school year,” HCDE Schools Senior Director Dr. Anthony Mays said. “We are delivering a high level of instruction in a virtual environment to meet students’ needs.”

Virtual learning will be both synchronous and asynchronous. Synchronous learning is online learning where students are engaged with the teacher at the same time. Asynchronous learning allows each student to log on and work on assignments as teachers and aides assist them independently.

“A teacher could be doing both, teaching synchronously but having the assignments asynchronously,” Mays said.

As with all Texas ISDs, HCDE’s Schools Division is governed by Texas Education Agency guidelines for hourly requirements for instruction, varying by grade level. For grades 3-5, 180 minutes of synchronous instruction are required. For grades 6-12, 240 minutes of instruction are standard.

HCDE’s Schools will meet the instruction model prescribed by each client school district. For example, if a district has the option to meet in-person or virtually, the parent may decide and HCDE will supply that preference. As staff engages with students, it will be essential for teachers and counselors to maintain personal contact with students’ parents and caregivers.

Mays said HCDE is following both CDC and TEA health regulations. Sneeze guards will be provided for nurses and school administrative assistants. A minimum of three sanitation stations are set up at each school. Once in-person school is in session, trifold desk screens will be used in each classroom. Safety protocol is outlined and strictly followed at each campus.

This week, Schools Division leaders met for professional development in preparation for return to school as teachers return Aug. 11 to get online professional development.
Staff have been collecting student data and information to use in benchmark assessments for academics and behavior. Two of HCDE’s schools—Academic and Behavior School East and West—are for student populations which include children with autism spectrum disorder, emotional disabilities and developmental disabilities. Each student enters the new school year with targeted behavior and academic outcomes.

At Fortis Academy, HCDE’s school for recovering youth, students will be engaged virtually through synchronous learning by teachers guiding them through content-specific lessons (math, English, science). Students at Highpoint, a school for adjudicated or troubled teens, will gain that same type of instruction.

HCDE’s Teaching and Learning Center Curriculum Director for Digital Education and Innovation Dr. Colina Poullard will be assisting new and existing teachers for Microsoft Teams and Zoom platforms for instruction. She will be working with teachers on methods to engage special populations of students through virtual instruction.

As teachers drop by their respective schools to receive their new laptops, Mays repeats a commitment to support them in the a very unconventional school year:

“It’s a huge learning curve for our teachers,” said Mays. “We are meeting with our teachers next week and they will have our full support. We have been teaching through virtual learning platforms since the spring of last school year, but we continue to grow our skills.”

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