DONNA — Measures taken in response to the coronavirus pandemic have forced Rio Grande Valley school districts to adopt strict new regulations that have caused districts to close campuses, strategically send home staff and adapt to a totally remote curriculum in about a week’s time.
Starting Monday, Valley teachers began teaching from home through entirely virtual classrooms and workbooks, and administrators began the task of running multi-million dollar districts with multiple campuses that are now largely devoid of people.
Donna ISD Superintendent Hafedh Azaiez says he expects the total number of employees working onsite at the district’s campuses or its administration buildings will fluctuate between 50 and 100 people based on need. He said the employees will be spread out and will mostly consist of child nutritionists, police officers, bus drivers and some administration officials.
“We have a skeleton crew here,” he said. “Most of the admin, if they can work remotely, they’re working remotely. The big chunk of the work will be done from home.”
According to Azaiez, many employees who continue to work onsite are rotated based on when they’re needed to keep numbers down; they’re also employing increased sanitation practices and social distancing to keep those employees healthy.
Azaiez said technology was crucial in keeping the district functioning with so many teachers and administrators working remotely.
“If this happened 20 years ago, we wouldn’t get a quarter of the work done,” he said. “It’s amazing.”
While Azaiez said Donna ISD was fairly well-prepared for the pandemic laws, there were clearly some areas for improvement. Azaiez says the district will be increasing training staff in remote teaching.
“We have to make sure that more of our teachers are learning,” he said.
He also said a lack of technology and technological infrastructure can impede students.
“Sometimes you have families of three or four that only have one device,” he said.
Wi-Fi has also been an issue, affecting students in more rural areas or with poorer connectivity.
“We’re talking about maybe purchasing one of those towers for Wi-Fi and our students can have access to free Wi-Fi at home, but they’re expensive, it’s like $200,000 a tower,” he said.
Azaiez acknowledged that some students will have an advantage over others because of those technological issues. He says the district will focus on teaching while monitoring benchmarks that will help teachers track students’ progress.
“We’re not focusing on grades right now too much. Every family has a different situation,” he said. “It’s crucial that we provide some type of instruction and ensure that they are learning.”